GROTON -- Looking for a way to honor one of their own, volunteers at Townsend Ecumenical Outreach (TEO) have decided on just the thing, participation in the Post Office's annual food drive held May 11.

"We would like to hold a food drive in memory of Jim Clish," explained TEO volunteer Chris St. Jean. "The Post Office has a drive every year and we just wanted people to know how much Jim did for us and the community. We want to do this for him."

James Clish, who founded the TEO in 1984, died on March 27.

Operating out of a building at 82 Bayberry Hill Road donated to the organization by the Sterilite Corp., the TEO runs the Clothes Closet store which not only distributes food of all sorts to Townsend residents who need a helping hand, but also clothing.

The group also operates a food pantry from the site.

Over the twenty years since Clish got the TEO off the ground, the group has helped hundreds of families and individuals through difficult times, a situation that has become all too frequent over the last decade as Massachusetts in particular and the nation in general has suffered under prolonged economic stagnation.

In addition to local residents who are just down on their luck, the TEO has also been there for people who have found themselves without a home due to fire or storm.

The surprising number of people who needed help in Townsend prompted Clish to begin Ecumenical Outreach in 1984 when he saw a need in the community that local churches couldn't keep up with.


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"We needed to do fundraising, programs needed to be expanded," Clish said in a 2003 interview. "All the churches helped out and local businesses and private organizations."

The Ecumenical Outreach program began by helping 15-20 families in need but soon expanded its efforts to reach out to include victims of accidents, deaths in the family, or fire emergencies.

"The main thing is, don't forget the folks next door," said Clish. "Lots of things get sent all over and overseas, but sometimes people have to be reminded that the person who needs help might be in their own neighborhood. You could live next door to somebody and have no idea what they might be going through."

Thankful for Clish's example and for the years he dedicated to his fellow residents, TEO volunteers decided that a fitting memorial for their beloved founder would be a food drive done in participation with the Post Office's annual food drive.

The Post Office Food Drive is held every year on the second Saturday in May and is organized across the country by the National Association of Letter Carriers.

This year, the Post Office Food Drive will be held on Saturday, May 11.

"They'll put out bags on your mailbox," explained St. Jean. "Those who want to, can fill them up with food items and the mailman will pick them up and take them back to the local Post Office."

The TEO, said St. Jean, will arrange with the Townsend Post Office to pick up the donated foodstuff and store it at their Bayberry Hill Road headquarters for later distribution.

Those interested in availing themselves of their neighbors' largesse, can fill out a form and sign up.

"We could always use peanut butter," said St. Jean of the kind of supplies the organization is in most need of. "It's a big hit because it goes a long way. Also toiletries, paper products, toothpaste, soap, baked goods, canned vegetables, mixes, breakfast foods, microwave dinners.

"We'd really like to beef this up because we're kind of low on food," said St. Jean of her hopes for the Post Office food drive. "Anything would help. We've been feeding a lot of families and things will not be getting better any time soon. We've had at least 100 families applying for food and there's always some kind of emergency in town like home fires and such."

In 2011, TEO served 1,860 people of which 530 were children, 970 adults, and 360 senior citizens.

"We're always there to help," said St. Jean. "We're a non-profit organization supported by local churches and other groups and are available to assist those in a crisis situation. We hold monthly distributions of food and clothes. But to qualify, those interested have to complete an application showing evidence of local residence and financial need."

Over the years and thanks to the support of local residents and businesses as well as regional charitable organizations, TEO's services have only grown until now, it offers monthly food distributions, a free clothing exchange for Townsend and surrounding communities, short term aid, fuel and financial assistance, provision of emergency short-term aid to fire victims, Thanksgiving and Christmas food baskets, Christmas gifts for children, referrals to other social services, and even back to school certificates and supplies for students.

Anyone interested in learning more about the Townsend Ecumenical Outreach can either visit the group's website at teoutreach.org or call either Gary Hatch at 978-394-4358 or Don Ouellette at 978-597-5527.

The group can also be reached by email at teo2@comcast.net .

Those who would like to make a financial contribution, can send checks to TEO, P.O. Box 867, Townsend, MA., 01469.

And of course, the group is always looking for more volunteers!