Fuel for the Weekend marks three years helping the community

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Fuel for the Weekend Executive Director Sarah Stone hopes to continue expanding the program in 2022 with a clothing drive. Courtesy photo

By Max Bowen-max.bowen@northstarreporter.com

In January 2019, Fuel for the Weekend was launched with the goal of providing weekend meals for Community School students in low-income families.

Since then that need has grown, and the non-profit organization has worked to ensure those facing hunger have someone to turn to.

Fuel for the Weekend (FFTW) Executive Director Sarah Stone said that according to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, the percentage of families in North Attleborough that qualify as low-income has increased from 17 to 25 percent since early 2019.

She said that the community has responded in kind, which has proven critically helpful since the non-profit only qualifies for certain grants. Due its small size, FFTW doesn’t qualify for larger grants, but it has received support from the YMCA, Stop & Shop, Dunkin Donuts, and Grace Episcopal Church.

We couldn’t have lasted this long without the support of the community,” said Stone.

The Fuel for the Weekend program has over 70 volunteers, including students Clare Latham, Analise Fantasia, and Sydney Fortin. Courtesy photo

The program’s beginning

Fuel for the Weekend started in the Community School, co-founded by Stone and Sarah McCracken, the school’s former principal. Back then, it served around 10 families, with food handed out to the students on Friday after school. Sarah has said this was done because food insecurity can make people embarrassed, and this helped them remain anonymous. By that March, the students in the program had increased six-fold, and the organizers began to look to others to help, deciding on the Falls School as the next expansion of the program.

In early 2020, plans were being made to expand to other North Attleborough schools when the COVID-19 pandemic struck. This closed the schools and required a new home for FFTW. The Alternative Market stepped up, and a space was set aside for food donations and volunteers to pack bags. It was at this time that FFTW grew to encompass anyone in need.

We were super lucky to have that,” said Stone of the Market.

But as the pandemic continued the Alternative Market was forced to close its doors, and the program relocated to Stone’s home before finding a new one at the Hockomock YMCA. The Y was already running its own food relief program, and space was made for FFTW. The two have gone on to partner multiple times. FFTW Assistant Director Elizabeth Couchon said working with the Y helped the organization improve.

The Y was the first organization to give us a grant when we started and we’ve consistently had their support,” said Stone. “When we said we need some space, they came to our rescue. We’re so incredibly grateful to the YMCA for the space that they have provided to us, and not only that, the partnership.”

Fuel for the Weekend recently got a new home at the Hockomock YMCA. The two organizations have partnered from time to time, and the Y was the first to sponsor FFTW. Courtesy photo

A growing need means a growing network

Over the last three years, FFTW has partnered with a number of organizations, all with the goal of providing meals for those that need them the most. They’ve worked with the town’s Farmers Market and Community Garden to provide fresh produce.

During the growing season it’s worked out really well,” said Couchon.

The program later expanded with Our Open Umbrella, which includes FFTW, a toiletries program, and a future clothing drive. Stone credited the work of the more than 70 volunteers who offer their time, some monthly, some every week. Couchon said that some organize the food and others pack the bags, and some offer their vehicles to make deliveries. A team of people—one of whom lives in Poland and another in Florida—maintain the web site and make the logos.

We’ve been able to streamline the process,” said Stone. “We’ve been lucky to find people willing to dedicate their time to Fuel for the Weekend.”

Last year the program grew even more with the formation of the Food Access Collaborative with the YMCA and Lenore’s Pantry. Stone said each of the organizations provides a different service—Lenore’s is a monthly service, the YMCA packs grocery bags once a week. Stone said that each has its focus, but since the collaborative was formed, they’ve been working well together, arranging successful food drives at places like the Farmers Market and last fall’s Block Party.

We’re planning more this year,” said Stone. “This is a network of people that just wants to help.”

How you can help

Below are the web sites and ways to make donations.

Facebook – updates and messaging. https://www.facebook.com/OOUNAMa

Instagram – updates and outreach. https://www.instagram.com/ouropenumbrella/

Website – member sign up, contact information, links to socials, volunteer sign-up form, donation site. https://www.ouropenumbrella.org

GiveLively site – monetary donations. https://secure.givelively.org/donate/our-open-umbrella-incorporated/

Checks payable to – Our Open Umbrella Inc

Amazon Wish List – items needed that ship directly to Our Open Umbrella. https://www.amazon.com/hz/wishlist/ls/2484YLCNX6HZC?ref_=wl_share

Email – ouropenumbrella@gmail.com

Mailing address:

Our Open Umbrella

PO Box 506

North Attleboro, MA 02761