Blanketing Leominster with Good Will

November 20, 2018

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LEOMINSTER -- It’s looking like a busy holiday season for Margie “Tobi” Anderson and Donna Smith. They’ve just unofficially become the adoptive grandmothers to Leominster’s homeless population.

As Anderson explains it, she was sitting in her Spruce Street apartment one recent afternoon when a thought popped into her head.

“I wonder what homeless people actually do. How do they survive out there?” she recalled thinking. “I thought that I could do something for them.”

So Anderson reached out to Smith, a close friend living in the same apartment building. The two have worked together on volunteering efforts in the past, collecting canned goods for food pantries and donated knick-knacks for new arrivals to their senior housing complex. Homelessness was a new issue for the two.

“I brought over a blanket and then we started taking ideas from people here on what they thought would be usable,” said Smith.

The result was 14 care packages filled with blankets, winter clothes, food, water, and hygiene products. The first batch of bags were delivered to the Leominster Police Department last week, but Anderson and Smith plan to put more together through the holiday season.

“I think there are a lot of people who just think homeless people want to be living out there, but that is not the case. They probably lost their job, their car, who knows,” said Anderson. “They don’t want to be living under the bridge.”

Part of their work has been convincing some of their fellow residents that the city’s homeless are good people in need of help, particularly those dealing with drug addiction and mental illness.

“Things used to be a lot more hush-hush. People never talked about this kind of thing,” said Smith. “Now it’s all out in the open.”

“I’ve heard a few people here make wisecracks about homeless people and I say to them, ‘You don’t even know what their situation is. How can you judge?’” added Anderson.

About a dozen of Anderson and Smith’s neighboring residents have contributed to the gift bags and they plan to continue collecting donations through the rest of the year. As for those not living in their apartment complex, the pair are encouraging people to bring donations directly to the Leominster Police Department.

Requested items are primarily limited to warm blankets, men’s and women’s winter hats, gloves, and socks, as well as toiletries like deodorant and toothbrushes.

“With homelessness, it’s not the person. The person behind the whole thing is usually a fantastic person,” said Smith. “And sometimes just this little act of kindness, and knowing someone out there cares, can make a big difference.”

Follow Peter Jasinski on Twitter @PeterJasinski53

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