Community fund helps those in need

People who stop by the Village Market Friday night during the Holiday Stroll will find volunteers from the newly named Wilton Community Assistance Fund at a table with treats and flyers about the fund-raising group.

The Wilton Community Assistance Fund is not new; it is simply the Wilton Interfaith Council renamed to more accurately reflect its mission: to help Wilton citizens in need of economic assistance.

"That name was confusing to people," said Lynne Vanderslice, fund-raising co-chair along with Rita Garland.

The interfaith council, which is about 25 years old, was originally formed by several houses of worship in town. Although the faith institutions are still major financial donors, they do not have any representatives on the board of directors.

Money raised through the Wilton Community Assistance Fund is deposited at The Wilton Bank and is overseen by the Interfaith Council board of directors: Steve Pettit, president; Lisa Baird, vice president; Peter Politi, treasurer; and Margaret Creeth, secretary. Cathy Pierce, social services director, is an ex-officio member, and Winifred Chesley is the bookkeeper.

Wilton Social Services recommends disbursement to its clients who submit specific requests.

"It's anonymous," Ms. Vanderslice said. "No one on the board knows who is getting the money."

The money helps with heating bills, rent assistance and the purchase of school supplies. Donations also support the food pantry, which has seen a 29% increase in utilization over the past year, according to Ms. Pierce.

To simplify things, Ms. Vanderslice said, "we thought, let's do an all-encompassing fund, and we named it the Community Assistance Fund. It's much more user-friendly."

"It will encompass what was the Wilton Warm-up Fund, food pantry ... help with rent," said Ms. Garland. "It's a gap-funding mechanism ... to get people over the rough spots."

Prior to the economic downturn, need was such in Wilton that most requests could be accommodated by a few phone calls to reliable individual donors.

"That was all over in 2008," said Ms. Garland, an 18-year-resident and former PTA president and former Tri-Board committee member.

With more than 100 families still seeking assistance in 2012, "we said let's do one united fund-raising appeal under one umbrella instead of going off in different directions," Ms. Garland said.

She said the group is hoping to raise enough money to build up a cushion.

Ms. Vanderslice, who sits on the Board of Finance, said Ms. Pierce made a presentation about the food pantry at one of the board's meetings.

"It was an eye-opener for me," she said. "Social Services has no budget from the town," she continued. "Last year the town put some money in for the food pantry. All these other things, there's no money from the town.

"We now have more people — we're giving out more money for heating assistance than ever, but people are getting less each. We don't have the resources to meet the full need."

"We have not seen a reduction in need," Ms. Pierce said, of requests to social services. "People initially affected by the recession have not been restored." Many who lost their jobs have found new ones but are under-employed. Although the town does contribute money to the food pantry, it also relies heavily on cash donations, food donations, food drives, donations from Ambler Farm, and Community Plates, a food rescue organization.

Anyone wishing to make a donation to the Wilton Community Assistance Fund may call Ms. Pierce for details at 203-834-6238.