A Mattapoisett woman's drive to bring big city emergency pediatric care to South Coast

Jul 23, 2018

Gov. Charlie Baker breezed into town on Thursday, July 19, in a show of a support for a local woman who's blazing a fundraising trail to bring big city emergency pediatric care to the South Coast.

Baker arrived at The Atlantic Bistro on Spring Street in Marion just after 5:30 p.m. to meet Jill Fearons, a Mattapoisett mother of six and the tour de force behind "Food for Tots." The restaurant-based fundraiser is aimed at expanding Southcoast Health Pediatrics' care at St. Luke's Hospital in New Bedford in collaboration with Boston Children's Hospital.

Baker flashed a wide smile as he approached Fearons, who shot back an equally welcoming smile before launching into a short, relaxed conversation with the governor.

Fearons asked that no one bother the governor while there. It was, after all, the dinner hour and the governor was likely hungry. Baker took a corner table in the back of the bistro with his aides, while a formidable looking bodyguard sat at a counter near the restaurant entrance.

The governor had no sooner sat down to order his meal, when Fearons instructed her entourage that it was time to leave for their next destination -- Brew Fish Bar & Eatery on Front Street.

Inside the boisterous restaurant, Fearons was met by an enthusiastic crowd that included her husband George, their eldest son, and friends and sponsors Todd and Maurine Rodrigues, owners of Yard Boss and the Windswept development in Mattapoisett. Also on hand were FUN 107 Radio personality and DJ Michael Rock, and Tricia Grime and Bill Burns from Southcoast Health.

There was a sense of camaraderie as all enjoyed food and drink, knowing that a portion of their tab would go to a good cause. It was a scene that would be repeated several more times throughout the evening as the group snacked and dined their way through Marion and Mattapoisett.

The nine-month Food for Tots fundraising campaign was initiated by the Fearons  in April and will run through November, involving restaurants across the South Coast. On July 19, tri-town participants were Brew Fish and The Atlantic Bistro in Marion, and Turk's Seafood, The Inn at Shipyard Park, Nick's Homemade Pizza, and Oxford Creamery in Mattapoisett.

"What they do is donate all day long, one day out of the month, 15 percent of total sales, alcohol included," Fearons said of the participating establishments.

So far her campaign has rolled through Fairhaven, Dartmouth, Fall River, New Bedford, Marion and Mattapoisett.  Come next November, the more than 30 participating restaurants will do it again, she said.

"We've made a little over $30,000, in just those three months with just restaurants participating," Fearons said.

With Thursday's Marion and Mattapoisett dining yielding another $11,500, "in the past four months, we've raised more than $40,000," Fearons said triumphantly in a Friday phone call from Baltimore, where she was with Southcoast Health officials doing work relative to the proposed expansion of the St. Luke's Emergency Pediatrics unit.

"Worst case scenario we'll make $60,000," she said of the restaurant campaign. "Best case scenario, we'll make $80.000, and that's just from people going out to eat."

She explained a second associated source of donations: "I have match donors every month, and this month it's Yard Boss and Windswept . . . Donors come in and they match up to $2,500 of what we make from the restaurant sales. But Yard Boss is matching up to $5,000. They're going to do that again for us in November."

Fearons' biggest fundraiser for Southcoast Health Pediatrics doesn't happen until the fall.

"I do a major fundraiser in the fall," she said referring to the $150 per ticket black-tie-optional "3rd Annual Fearons Celebration" slated for Sept. 22, at The Bay Club at Mattapoisett. "To date, we've raised $260,000 just over the past two years. My goal this year is $250,000. I think we're gonna make it. We're going to get about 600 people to attend. I'm confident we're going raise $250,000 this year."

Fearons' vision remains clear.

"I'm a huge advocate for Southcoast Peeds," she said. "My little one, Jack, got really, really ill and ended up at Boston's Children's for months with a brain condition. And it was Southcoast (Pediatrics) that, in hindsight, saved his life. So I knew I had to do something to help them."

She explained what has already been accomplished: "What Southcoast Health does is they are collaborating with Boston Children's Hospital. So now, between the hours of 11 a.m. and 11 p.m., if you go into the new pediatric emergency department, you are gonna be seen by a Boston Children's doctor and some very qualified Southcoast Health doctors."

"Our goal is to grow the pediatrics emergency department, open it 24-hours per day, increase the bed capacity, everything, which is where all this funding goes to," Fearons said. "We don't want people to have to leave the South Coast to get this sort of care."

For more information on how to help or become involved go to: www.southcoast.org/fearons