HOLDEN, Mass. — As Winter's chill has reached the region early this year, the local non-profit organization weeaide has been amping up its efforts to put together 1,500 bags of warm clothes and essential items for the homeless, veterans, and underpriveleged — and residents can once again help make a miracle come true by donating items at First Baptist Church in Holden.
Weeaide founder Gwen Callahan and her daughter Addie started the project ten years ago as part of the youth group at First Baptist Church, and since then the organization has expanded in its scope and reach.
"We wanted to do something that would help the homeless in some way, so we started making shoe-boxes with hats and gloves and stuff in it," Callahan explained.
While they had originally only planned on making a few, after they discovered that a veterans' shelter was in need, they ended up making 68 boxes in their first year.
"Which is way over what we thought we'd do," Callahan said. "I just called upon friends, and pulled in all my cards, and people just made them and we had 68 - so that was pretty incredible."
Moreover, in 2007, the group of volunteers were able to make and deliver 509 shoe boxes.
"It grows because the need gets bigger," said Callahan. "This past couple of years I've been calling it a DUO cause, because it's really Do Unto Others. And that's all, that's what keeps me going, because I know it's the right thing to do, and we have great volunteers that help."
This year, they hope to get 1500 of these bags delivered by Thanksgiving — and while this is a lofty goal, Callahan explained that every year there is some type of miracle that comes through.
For instance, in the second year, they were still planning to just make bags for the homeless and veterans, until a friend of hers brought in exactly 18 shoe boxes of warm items picked out for boys and girls.
"And I just looked at her, because I hadn't even thought about doing anything for teenagers. So I said, 'oh, thank you,' and then I walked into the house and looked straight up at God and said, 'now what am I supposed to do with those?'"
After calling around, Callahan was referred to The Village, in Worcester.
"So I called and the girl said, 'well, it sounds like a good thing, but we need quite a few.'"
"'Well, How many do you need?" Callahan asked.
The girl answered, "We need nine boys and nine girls, and they're teenagers."
With that, Callahan understood. "I'm just supposed to get them and then God will guide where they need to go, and that's what has happened ever since. Every year there's some sort of miracle that happens."
Each person in need receives a decorated bag filled with ten donated items, which includes a warm hat, warm socks (thick wool socks are best), gloves or mittens, a scarf, a toothbrush and toothpaste, non-gel toothpaste, gum, chapsticks and dental floss.
This year, Intel has donated 500 bags to help the cause,
Callahan's energy in the community has become contagious, and along the way she has made an impression on the friends and volunteers who work both happily and tirelessly by her side.
For instance, soon after meeting Callahan when she was working as a substitute teacher at the Mayo School, longtime weeaide volunteer Marilee Rauh realized how much energy she had when she would write and direct plays for the parents with the school staff as the cast.
"That's how I got to know her," Rauh said, "but the longer I got to know her, I realized what a heart she has. I have never met anybody that kind or generous, because it's nothing for herself. She never wants to take any of the credit, she's just very very giving."
While the organization is based in Holden, bags have gone to shelters and programs all over state, into Boston and as far as Portsmouth, NH.
And with a lot of work to be done before this year's big delivery date, Callahan added that "we could always use the help. People can help deliver, they can help paint bags, they can help wrap thing and put them in bags."
The group will be at First Baptist Church working on bags on Saturday and Sundays. Items can be donated throughout the week at the church as well.
In order to get in touch with weeaide about contributing either time or items, click here to visit their website.
"You get so much more than you give," said Callahan. "The time that I spend up there, it's nothing compared to the feeling you get when you feel like you've done something that God's pleased about — and that keeps you going."