By MAUREEN DOHERTY
NORTH READING — A school project with the goal of teaching students how they can make a difference in resolving a societal issue will provide local children in need with new warm winter clothing.
The Give Warmth Project at MarketStreet Lynnfield was created by Grace Gorman, a senior who attends North Reading High School and who is also employed at Southern Tide, an apparel store for men, women and children located at MarketStreet.
Through her efforts, MarketStreet Lynnfield has set up a specially designed clothing drop-off bin on The Green where visitors and shoppers are invited to drop off new winter clothing such as coats, socks, gloves, mittens, scarves and hats. The Give Warmth Project drive will run throughout the month of March and possibly beyond, and is accessible during regular business hours.
“At North Reading High, I was assigned a community service project and in the midst of researching poverty and local communities that need more support, I came up with the idea of starting this project and making a difference in helping kids have warm enough clothing just because I know how cold it gets here and how lucky I am that I have the gear that I need,” Grace said.
Called a “Civic Action Project,” it is a different approach to the typical community service project required of students in past years at her school. They were assigned the task of taking a “deep dive” into researching the issue they chose to focus on to accomplish their goal.
“I was definitely shocked by how many people really were in need,” Grace recalled. “Oftentimes people think that in this area ‘oh no, nobody is missing a coat. Nobody’s running out of food there.’ I wish that was the case, but it’s not. There are always people that need help.”
So she decided to reach out directly to the management at MarketStreet. “I wasn’t even sure if this idea was logical or possible. But I reached out on MarketStreet’s website. I wrote a note to the head marketing people. I was thinking they probably would not answer, knowing how busy they are. I was so excited when I got an email back saying how excited they were for the project and saying, ‘Let’s get started!’ It was a great feeling!” Grace said.
Grace, who is 18 and excitedly awaiting the arrival of college acceptance letters in these last few months of high school, has worked at Southern Tide for about a year and a half. She considers herself fortunate that MarketStreet “took care of any cost and fees that this project entailed and I am very thankful for that.” The design team at MarketStreet also allowed her to give some “creative suggestions” in the design of the drop-off bin, “but other than that their graphic design team did a fabulous job,” she said, adding they also have developed a social media campaign. Several stores at MarketStreet are offering in-store incentives or discounts to those who drop of their Gift of Warmth donations in their stores, including Southern Tide.
Once MarketStreet was on board it was time to choose a beneficiary of the project. Grace learned that MarketStreet had successfully teamed up with the Boys & Girls Clubs of Stoneham and Wakefield in the past for a toy drive. “They had great relations and connections with them and they knew they would be a good partner for this project,” she said.
The need has never been greater
For Anthony Guardia, who serves as the director for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Stoneham and Wakefield, the partnership a year into the COVID-19 pandemic could not have come at a better time.
“We are so lucky to work with Grace and MarketStreet. It has been a wonderful program. In these abnormal times a gift like a new coat or gloves or a hat or socks seems like something that we may disregard, but for a lot of the kids we serve that makes a huge difference. It gives them a sense of normalcy when it’s not really normal out,” Guardia said.
During a year when everything was being shut down, the essential services provided by the Boys & Girls Club had to ramp up out of necessity. During his tenure with the Boys & Girls Clubs, he has never known them to serve so many families.
“We transitioned after COVID started from an after-school program to an all day program,” Guardia recalled. They are open from 7:30 a.m. until the early evenings when their parents pick them up.
“A lot of the families we serve don’t have the luxury of having a job where they can simply work from home. They’re contractors, (work) in retail, they’re municipal employees, and they still needed someone to take care of their kids when schools shut down,” Guardia said. “Kids do their school at our clubs and after they do their schooling they go to our after-school program… We serve three meals a day.”
“We’ve been lucky enough to fill in that gap and with that we have heard more than our fair share of people in need of something as simple as a coat. Grace has filled in the gap so nicely,” Guardia said.
After talking with Anthony about the project in January, Grace said, “It really reassured me that I was doing the right thing and that this project would be worthwhile.”
Asked if he was surprised someone so young came up with this idea on her own, Guardia said, “Absolutely. I don’t think at 18 years old I would have thought of ‘hey how can I give back?’ It’s a credit to not just her, but a credit to her family and it’s a credit to North Reading and the community that helped raise her. I think all those ingredients played a part to create someone who wants to give back.”
Requests for assistance over the holidays typically occur after Veterans’ Day. This year, the requests started in early October, he said.
“Our average daily attendance is 300 kids,” Guardia said. “We have three teen centers, two licensed care facilities and two clubs. The majority of the kids are from Stoneham and Wakefield, but we also have kids from surrounding towns, including Reading, Melrose, North Reading, Lynnfield, who come to the Boys & Girls Clubs.”
“Urban poverty and urban homelessness looks a lot different than if you’re couch-surfing from grandma’s house to an uncle’s house to a friend’s house,” he has learned. “It is so much easier to hide poverty in the towns,” Guardia said.
All of the clothing will be distributed discreetly and privately to the families.
“A key item is socks because I feel like socks are not the most obvious item donated to people in need. Other than that jackets, scarves, gloves, all the winter necessities that we take for granted would make great donations,” said Grace, who has the full support of her parents, Peter and Julie Gorman, and her older brothers, Will and Matt, in pursuing this project.
Last week, Grace and Anthony enjoyed a little celebrity time in the television spotlight as both were interviewed by Fox 25 News about The Give Warmth Project.
“I just want to make it public that I’m just so thankful for all the support that’s been given; that will be given. It’s truly tremendous and I’m just thankful for the opportunity,” Grace said, adding, “In terms of ‘The Give Warmth Project’ we are hoping to make it an annual event. I think I’ll definitely take this into consideration that such a little thought or act can turn into such a big thing. It’s really not that hard to make a difference. I think that’s the take-away.”
To learn more about The Give Warmth Project and view a recommended list of items that can be donated visit https://marketstreetlynnfield.com/the-give-warmth-project/