Meet 10-year-old Ben Fernekees of Swampscott. Ben is just like every other 10-year-old. Well, almost. What sets him apart from most other kids his age is that he is the co-founder of Ben’s Mission, an organization that does large donation drives in Boston throughout the year.
Ben and his mom Danielle Fernekees, the other co-founder, started this endeavor back when Ben was around two-years-old.
“We started taking hats and gloves and socks into the Boston Commons with a wagon, just giving them out,” Danielle said.
It has since grown, with people from Swampscott and other towns across Massachusetts coming to help with the drives. The people that volunteer with them are all friends of Ben and Danielle from church, yoga, and even all the way back to Danielle’s elementary school days.
When they moved to Swampscott about a year and a half ago, Danielle posted about Ben’s Mission in a Facebook group called “Swampscott Nest.”
“Since then … everyday we come home and there’s packages on the doorstep and people reaching out,” Danielle said.
For the drives, Ben and Danielle said they bring all the essentials plus lunches for those in need, and they rely solely on donations. They also have an Amazon wish list, which changes depending on the time of year.
The next drive they are hosting is on June 10. They are asking for shoe donations this round.
“The last outreach we went out on…there were a lot of very holey worn out shoes from the winter and quite a few folks with no shoes at all,” Danielle wrote in a facebook post on May 11. “Starting today…We are leaving a box on our front stoop for you to leave shoes that you would like to share. Our address is 66 Puritan Rd. Our goal is to give as many people on the street a new pair of shoes as we can.”
In March, they were gearing up for their donation drive near the intersection of Massachusetts Avenue and Melnea Cass Boulevard, also known as ‘Mass and Cass’ in Boston. Friends and family of Danielle and Ben showed up to help hand out the supplies, which included hygiene kits, clothes, shoes, winter jackets, tents, and bagged lunches.
Students from the fifth grade at Swampscott Middle School have drawn and written cards to be included in the lunches for the donation drives, Danielle said.
Rachel Dembkoski of Swampscott was there volunteering in March with her kids, one of whom goes to school with Ben.
“We just want to help,” Dembkoski said. “It’s just a nice thing to give back, I think it’s a great thing to teach the kids.”
Danielle said she wanted to start doing drives with Ben all those years ago because she is in recovery, and wanted to help others in recovery. Ben said it “feels really good” to help those in need.
“He just loved it,” she said, gesturing to Ben. “It’s showing the kids how to get outside of themselves and actually do something for other people. The kids love it. The neighbors come over and make cards and help us make lunches, and the school got involved, and church kids got involved, and people will send us cards to send out.”
Ben’s Mission is something they want to grow, hoping to reach more people in Swampscott and neighboring communities who want to volunteer.
“For me, it’s just going down and giving people dignity,” Danielle said. “Let people be seen, because it’s a population that people just walk by and they don’t see. So, just to be present with them and give them hope and put a hand out.”