From heat to shoes: Holiday help for local families in need

From heat and rent assistance, to gift giving and shoe donations, Wilton is giving back in a number of ways this holiday season.

“I think there are an awful lot of people who want to help people but they’re always looking outside of the town,” said Nancy Milnamow, treasurer of the Wilton unit of the Salvation Army “But there are a lot of families that need help here in Wilton.”

Although the unit is small, Wilton Salvation Army members do the best they can to help local families in need during the holiday season.

“We’re under the radar in that we do most of our work through Wilton Social Services,” explained Tina Gardner, chair of the Wilton Salvation Army unit.

Through Social Services’ Holiday Giving Program, the unit recently helped bring gifts to one local family this holiday season.

“Individuals, families and organizations can purchase gifts from children’s wish lists or give cash donations for gift cards for older children,” said Wilton Social Services Director Cathy Pierce. “These children are all from our client families.”

Heat assistance

alvation Army also helps Wilton Social Services with its heat and rent assistance programs, which are funded through the nonprofit Wilton Community Assistance Fund.

“We had some referrals for heat assistance where we helped pay two fuel bills,” said Ms. Gardner, who has been associated with the Wilton Salvation Army unit for at least 14 years.

“We help Cathy fill in the gaps — people come in and they’re not ready for a program yet but they have an outstanding bill and can’t meet it, so then we’re usually the ones she comes to for help with that.”

Ms. Pierce said the Wilton Community Assistance Fund “supports our ability to offer financial assistance to Wilton residents in need.”

“We use the fund for housing, heating, utility and extracurricular activity fees for our client families,” Ms. Pierce explained. “Every dollar donated goes directly to a Wilton resident in need.”

Donations to the Wilton Community Assistance Fund can be mailed to Ms. Pierce at 180 School Road, Wilton, CT, 06897. Checks should be made payable to the Wilton Community Assistance Fund.

The heating assistance program is also funded by Connecticut Energy Assistance Program (CEAP) and Operation Fuel grants.

CEAP provides energy assistance grants “to pay for heat to households with income no greater than 60% of the state median income,” with asset limits of $10,000 for homeowners and $7,000 for renters.

Operation Fuel is a nonprofit energy assistance program that provides a one-time grant of $350 to low-income households — under 60% of the state median income — for deliverable fuel. It also assists with overdue non-heat utility bills.

Operation Fuel donations can be made online at operationfuel.org or mailed to Operation Fuel, 75 Charter Oak Ave., Suit 2-240, Hartford, CT 06106. Donations can also be made through its Add-a-Dollar program when paying monthly utility bills.

Wilton residents may apply for CEAP and Operation Fuel grants through Wilton Social Services.

Payless program

For at least five or six years, local Salvation Army members and Wilton Social Services have worked together to give shoes to children who need them.

“Social Services gets a list together of the families with  children who need shoes and with donations, we have gift cards that we give out for Payless,” explained Ms. Gardner.

“We receive $30 cards at a discounted rate. I think last year we had 70, so that’s probably one of the programs that costs the most money.”

The Wilton unit receives a beginning allocation of $5,000 from The Salvation Army each year, explained Ms. Gardner, but that $5,000 usually isn’t enough to cover all its assistance programs.

“The Payless program was a couple thousand dollars last year,” said Ms. Gardner, “so that’s why we try to raise other money.”

The Wilton unit does most of its fundraising through a December donation letter, published by local news organizations, said Ms. Gardner, but this year, it also has an online donation option — the Online Red Kettle.

“The online kettle is a new program The Salvation Army launched this year, so we now have a webpage where people can donate,” said Karen Lourd, secretary of the Wilton Salvation Army unit.

“The funds that are donated through that page go directly to our unit and stay here in town.”

Ms. Gardner said donations to the Wilton Salvation Army unit seem to have dwindled over the years, but she hopes Wilton's Online Red Kettle will help engage more residents by providing an easier way for them to donate.

As of Saturday, Dec. 6, the unit had received two donations totaling $100.

Food pantry

In addition to check and cash donations for the various financial assistance programs it offers with the help of the Wilton Salvation Army, Wilton Social Services also accepts donations for the Wilton Interfaith Food Pantry at the Comstock Community Center, 180 School Road.

“We always need paper products and personal care items,” said Ms. Pierce. “We also accept donations of non-perishable food.”

Ms. Pierce said the department receives several donations each week through the Community Plates food rescue program, regular Kiwanis Club food drives, Wilton Public Schools and local houses of worship, as well as private citizens.

“We also receive several thousand dollars a year for the food pantry from local donors,” she said.

The department receives the greatest volume of donations between November and February, said Ms. Pierce, and the food pantry and heating assistance donations are the most common.

“It would be wonderful to just raise awareness in town that we are trying to help local residents through supplementing what Social Services can do,” said Ms. Lourd.

“And to raise awareness that there is a need in town,” Ms. Milnamow added, “and hopefully, the community will open their hearts and their wallets.”

For more information on Wilton Social Services’ programs, call 203-834-6238.