DRACUT — On a Tuesday afternoon in late August, Andrea Connelly and Sandra Perry stood in a hot, cramped corner room of the Ste. Marguerite d’Youville Parish Center, tucked behind the parish office on Lakeview Avenue.
Inside were cans of food and bins filled with snacks — donations for End 68 Hours of Hunger, a nonprofit organization aimed at ending childhood hunger.
Connelly and Perry, who coordinate the Dracut chapter, were on edge. After occupying the space rent-free for the past year and a half, their days here were now numbered. The volunteer coordinators had until Nov. 1 because the church the yellow brick building belongs to — Saint Marguerite d’Youville Parish — plans on leasing it out.
“We’re doing okay,” Connelly said that afternoon.
“Rattled,” Perry interjected.
“We’re a little stressed,” Connelly said. “A little desperate.”
If they didn’t find a new heated and donated space soon (on a ground floor), Connelly and Perry said, they would have to shut down the program which provides backpacks of food for children in need.
That all changed last week.
Perry last Thursday learned that there is some space available in Saint Mary Magdalen Church. Rev. Richard Clancy, pastor of the Tyngsboro church, St. Marguerite d’Youville Parish, and Saint Rita’s Parish in Lowell, had been trying to help End 68 Hours of Hunger find another place from which to operate its program. Together the three parishes form the River of Divine Mercy Collaborative.
“Father Clancy came through,” Perry said Friday. “We’re very excited because now we don’t have to close.”
The news, Perry said, came at a perfect time. She and Connelly were able to share the exciting update with supporters at a fundraiser last Thursday night.
A few weeks prior to securing a new space for End 68 Hours of Hunger, Clancy stood just outside the decades-old parish center. The former school, until recently, housed a local Boy Scouts troop, the Vincent de Paul Food Pantry, Alcoholics Anonymous, and others. In anticipation of the Nov. 1 deadline, those groups had been transferred to the basement hall of St. Marguerite d’Youville Parish.
“Our number one priority is, this is our mission. And what we do out of this building, in so many ways, is our mission,” Clancy said. “The issue is that we simply cannot afford to continue operating it the way we have.”
Clancy said there are a lot of expenses that come with running the building year-round, and that the weight falls heavily on the St. Marguerite d’Youville Parish. He and James McMorrow, the collaborative’s maintenance & grounds supervisor, gave The Sun a tour inside the facility, which has undergone minor repairs.
“The windows are not that great,” Clancy said.
“They’re single-pane,” McMorrow said.
“And the boiler…” Clancy said.
“Is at the end of its life,” McMorrow finished.
“If we were to continue to operate this the way that it has been in operation, it’s cost-prohibitive for us right now,” Clancy pointed out.
Despite some rumors, Clancy said there are no plans to sell the building. Ideally, the pastor said at the time, he’d like to see the building leased out with a portion of it designated for parish use.
“Everything that we have, we’ve been able to provide space for with the exception right now of End 68 Hours of Hunger,” he said on this recent Tuesday. “We’re trying very desperately to find a spot.”
On Saturday, Connelly sounded elated over the phone. She said she was relieved to know that they had a new space.
“I was sick to my stomach thinking ‘Oh my God, are we going to have to close? Are we going to have to end this program if we didn’t have anywhere to go?’” she said. “That was something I did not want to do.”
Connelly said she and Perry will receive the keys to the organization’s new base on Sept. 23 and will then work on moving backpacks and food donations out of the parish center by Nov. 1.
Both Perry and Connelly expressed deep gratitude to Clancy and the church.
“He really has been amazing. I know he worked very hard to try to find (this space) and I was so grateful that he was able to offer this to us. It’s not too far out of Dracut. It’s wonderful,” Connelly said. “This church has been so supportive and so generous. I am indebted to the community of Dracut. They have come behind this program 110 percent.”
Anyone interested in becoming involved with End 68 Hours of Hunger can find them on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/End68HoursofHungerDracut/.