NORTH READING – These days, in a community such as North Reading, which has been transforming itself since the post-World War II days from a farming community to an upper middle class suburban bedroom community, poverty is harder to see.

But it’s there. Scratch the surface and you will find people of all ages struggling to make ends meet – the elderly who built this community now living on fixed incomes, young families working multiple jobs to keep a roof over their heads, and those who may have been “getting by” on two incomes but quickly became overburdened with the loss of income due to unanticipated illness, injury, layoffs, or the reduction of overtime, tips or extra income from their entrepreneurial side gigs brought on by the pandemic.

With the added burden brought on by inflation now affecting all sectors of the economy, in particular energy and food costs, it’s plain to see why your neighbors may need to depend on the services provided year-round by North Reading’s Christian Community Service (CCS).

This all-volunteer, nonprofit is a 501(c)(3) organization that is entirely funded through the generosity of this community. Their services have always been provided to any member of the community in need without regard to religious affiliation, if any. And, these services are provided in confidence. Since 1991, the Transcript’s Neighbor Helping Neighbor Fund has served as its largest annual fund drive.

CCS volunteers are best known for running the North Reading Food Pantry, now located at 150 Haverhill St. at the corner of Hill Street, adjacent to the Union Congregational Church.  CCS is often able to help residents with no other place to turn, such as individuals who may not qualify for other types of assistance but have fallen on hard times and need a helpful hand to keep from being evicted, having their heat or lights turned off, or losing their car – which in this town means losing your ability to get to your job unless it’s by foot or bicycle. And that is not such a pleasant or practical option for at least half of the year plus most people work many miles from their homes, not within walking distance.

This is where the assistance provided by CCS makes a true difference in the lives of your struggling neighbors.

“We do everything we can to keep them housed, fed, warm and mobile,” CCS Co-Chair Teresa Sanphy told the Transcript in a recent interview.

Like so many organizations, CCS has experienced a changing of the guard following the retirement this past year of long-time chair Ellen Wiklanski. Currently, Sanphy and another long-time CCS volunteer, Penny Lord Esposito, serve as the organization’s co-chairs.

“At Christmas time we will do the same baskets we did at Thanksgiving,” Sanphy said. These baskets include all the fixings to make a delicious Christmas meal. Additionally, hot meals will be delivered on Christmas day to shut-ins by more volunteers who will shop, cook and deliver them.

Through the “Tag a Tag” program, CCS ensures that the children of its clients all receive essential and warm clothing — hats, mittens, pajamas, underwear, socks — plus three “wish list” gifts or toys.

CCS volunteer Susan Murray also runs a “clothes closet” of second-hand gently used items stored at the Martins Pond Union Baptist Church where families can go, by appointment, to outfit their children in additional essentials such as snowsuits and coats, school clothes and even costumes at Halloween.

The number of children in need has grown as well. At Halloween Sanphy said about 38 children were among the 90 to 100 clients currently receiving services from them, but by Thanksgiving, that number had grown to 45 children. After they had finalized their Take a Tag list for about 26 families and set up the tree at the Post Office, she recalled that a couple of new families with children came to them seeking assistance. Fortunately, at about that time a few other families in town had contacted CCS wanting to help out, thus, they were able to ensure the needs of their new clients were met almost immediately.

Sanphy and Esposito are grateful and amazed by such generosity demonstrated over and over again by so many organizations and individuals in this town, all of whom make it possible for them to fulfill each need as it arises. Take, for instance, the local Girl Scout Troop that wanted to help CCS. This troop has “adopted” a 6-year-old girl and, in the spirit of the holiday and the Girl Scout promise, they will ensure that her Christmas wishes come true.

Then there were the 28 gift wrapping baskets generously donated by the members of the Union Congregational Church — which included all the essentials for families to wrap the gifts they will receive from CCS, such as tape, tissue paper, wrapping paper, gift bags, and even hot cocoa and snacks for their own “at-home” gift wrapping party. “These are things that our clients do not need to spend their money on. They can save it for food and other necessities. And it is so nice to see the messages the little kids put in the baskets too!” Sanphy said.

“We have such an amazing community. There is always someone looking to help and pick up the slack,” she said, noting that over the past year more than 50 people have volunteered their services to CCS.

For 32 years, the readers of the Transcript have supported the year-round mission of CCS by donating to the Neighbor Helping Neighbor Fund. These funds are carefully budgeted by CCS to last throughout the year and help with emergency assistance, including heat and utility bills, rent and car repairs to ensure clients can get to their jobs. Any client who receives such services is also required to utilize the Food Pantry to help them free up their funds to pay for these essentials bills too.

As we head into the final two weeks of the Transcript’s drive the Neighbor Helping Neighbor Fund has surpassed $25,000 as nearly $8,000 of donations have been received in just the past week, including $131 from a group of kids who live on Kristyn Lane and decided to go Christmas caroling in their neighborhood and request donations for the Food Pantry. We love to hear about children spreading the spirit of the season while also doing so for a wonderful cause.

Donations of any amount are gratefully accepted to the NHNF as the tough times are not over and more people are seeking out the services CCS provides.

Do something nice, twice

The Horseshoe Grille, 226 Main St., continues to offer its patrons a chance to give back to the Transcript’s Neighbor Helping Neighbor Fund for those who “do something nice, twice.” Originated by former owners Pat and Kathi Lee, it is being continued by the new owners, Brad Atkinson, Ryan Cox and Noah Goldstein.

This is how it works: Patrons who purchase $100 in gift cards to the Horseshoe during the holiday season are eligible to receive a $20 gift certificate for themselves to use at the restaurant. However, upon request, the customer can choose to donate this gift to CCS and the restaurant will match the $20 face value of the give-back certificate to the NHNF and CCS. At the conclusion of their holiday gift card sales which runs through New Year’s Eve, the Horseshoe will write a check representing the funds raised. The Transcript will acknowledge the total donation from the challenge when we conclude the fund for the season just after the new year.

It’s easy to donate!

It’s easy to donate to the Neighbor Helping Neighbor Fund. As promised, the Transcript will acknowledge each donation received in print and pass them on to CCS. All donations are tax deductible as CCS is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. Those who donate $250 or more will be automatically mailed a tax receipt. CCS will provide receipts upon request for donations under $250 if the donor provides a name and address.

Donors are welcome to dedicate their donations to a loved one; simply include a note with your check. If you wish to remain anonymous please let us know. Over the years many donors have consistently made anonymous donations and that choice is always respected. To help keep the weekly tally straight we may add a word such as “anonymous snowman” to differentiate between various anonymous donors, especially if the amounts are the same.

Make checks payable to CCS

Please make checks payable to “Christian Community Service” or “CCS,” not to the newspaper. Checks may be mailed to the North Reading Transcript “NHNF” at 26 Albion St., Wakefield, MA 01880.

You may also drop donations off in person at our office at the above address in downtown Wakefield (a night drop box is located opposite the front door for contactless donations).

Those who wish to drop off their donation in person closer to home may also do so at the North Reading branch of the Reading Cooperative Bank, 170 Park St. (next to Ryer’s Store). Please specify to the bank teller your intention to donate to the Transcript’s “Neighbor Helping Neighbor Fund” to ensure it is recorded on the tally sheet as you would like it to appear in print. The bank forwards these sheets to us for acknowledgement in the newspaper.

Transcript 2021 NHNF donor list, week 4:

• Dental Health Concepts of North Reading— $1,000

• From Richard A. Mottolo— $1,000

• Kitty’s Restaurant & Lounge— $500

• In loving memory of Gene Barrasso— $500

• From Jack and Kristine Pecora— $500

• Brosseau Construction of North Reading— $300

• Yuan Pang & Yin-Yin Chin— $250

• Chuck & Marianne Carucci—$200

• In loving memory of Everett Leonard— $200

• From Pokeno Ladies and Nancy— $200

• Anonymous Sailor— $200

• Peter and Nancy Zawistowski— $150

• From Kristyn Lane kids singing carols and collecting donations for the Food Pantry— $131

• Thank you for all you do! From David and Mary Reed— $100

• From me, in memory of “Vinny Gooch”— $100

• In memory of Robert E. Parsons— $100

• In memory of Richard B. Lynds— $100

• From Roy and Christina Walters— $100

• From Loretta and Joe Hayes— $100

• With gratitude to the Kieran Family— $60

• In memory of Papa Charlie & Nana Helen from Bill, Michael, Rachel and Matthew— $50

• From Winnie— $50

• From Sheila and Jack Romo former North Reading residents— $50

• In memory of Helena Valenti— $50

• From Anne Lundell— $50

• In memory of Bonnie, Huey & Stomper— $50

• In memory of Jay Baumgarten— $24

• Happy Christmas from Noel and Tricia Kelly— $400

• From Becca & Taylor— $200

• From Megan & Josh— $200

• Anonymous Elf— $500

• John & Ellen Wiklanski— $100

• Anonymous Reindeer— $50

• From Tom and Jeannie Angeli— $300

• Emma’s Classic Cuts of North Reading— $100

Week 4 subtotal: $7,965

Previously acknowledged: $17,400

New total: $25,365