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As poverty curbs families’ spending, need for holiday assistance soars

Matthew Eadie
As poverty curbs families’ spending, need for holiday assistance soars
Bianny Suncar, (left) director of ABCD’s Mattapan Family Service Center and organizer of the ABCD Winter Fund Toy Drive, receives a donation from Andrea Battaglia of CRICO, who is representing the CRICO Cares Committee.

As people across Massachusetts continue to grapple with some of the nation’s highest costs of living, families in Greater Boston are reaching out for help as the holiday season approaches.

Despite inflation both nationwide and in Boston continuing to decline, the city remains one of the most expensive in the country, with median rent prices surpassing $3,400 per month — 73% higher than the national median, according to

Action for Boston Community Development, known as ABCD, is an anti-poverty nonprofit with 12 community development centers in Dorchester, Mattapan and other parts of the city that work year-round to assist families facing extreme poverty. The organization relies largely on donations to organize its annual toy drive, under its larger “Winter Fund” program, which assists families with basic necessities like clothing and food.

In the past, the fund has yielded $345,000 through donations, according to a statement from Christina Sieber, ABCD’s vice president for planning and institutional advancement. Sieber added that last year there was a slight decrease in giving, presumably because of the ending of the pandemic emergency. She said the need for help this year has actually increased, likely due to the end of most pandemic-related assistance from the government.

The toy drive is organized by Bianny Suncar, director of ABCD’s Mattapan Family Service Center, who said that last year, the organization assisted 700 families with toys across the city. ABCD hopes to match that number this year, Suncar said, while also noting that the demand is higher than before.

“We’ve had a huge increase of clients calling us, starting in September and October,” Suncar said. “Most of our lists are almost at capacity.”

Suncar noted that the highest demand for assistance comes from communities like Mattapan, Dorchester and Roxbury, but she added that need comes from every community across the city. ABCD estimated that in 2022, 17.9% of Boston residents were below 100% of the federal poverty line, meaning a family of four makes less than $30,000 per year, or $577 per week.

Suncar said ABCD began accepting donations at their toy drive hub at ABCD Dorchester, with hopes of distributing the gifts to families that have requested assistance.   

Mayor Michelle Wu announced last month that her office, along with the office of community engagement, will also be organizing a toy drive in partnership with the Marine Toys for Tots program.

“Every child deserves to feel the joy of opening a gift and finding fun in a new toy or book, and the holiday season is the perfect time to give back to our communities,” Wu said in a Nov. 21 press release announcing the program.

According to the Marine Toys for Tots website, last year the organization delivered over 89,000 toys to 82,011 children in the Greater Boston area.

ABCD, Action for Boston Community Development, assistance, cost of living, holidays, inflation, toy drive