Person-to-Person: Agency spreads its support

The nonprofit organization Person-to-Person recently wrapped up its first year offering help to Wilton families in need.

The agency, which served Darien for more than 40 years, merged in October 2012 with the long-standing Norwalk-based Christian Community Action, which had often worked with Wilton Social Services. With the merger, Person-to-Person, known as P2P, expanded its reach to include Wilton, Westport, Weston, New Canaan, Stamford, and Norwalk as well as Darien.

P2P took over Christian Community Action’s facility and expanded it to enable it to serve more people with food and financial assistance.

At the helm is Ceci Maher, executive director, who said the agency has increased more than fivefold over the previous year and serves 40 to 60 families a day with food assistance.

“This year, we will give food for half a million meals,” Ms. Maher said, adding that “one in five in Fairfield County are food-insecure.”

Commenting on the expansion, she said, “We’re here to help the three Ws: Wilton, Weston and Westport.”

She said the poverty rate in Darien and New Canaan is 1% and estimated the same for Wilton.

“For those people,” and especially their children, she said, “the comparison [with others] can feel so great.”

The biggest need in the new communities the agency serves is financial donations.

“Financial donations are really important. Anything that comes in is gratefully appreciated,” she said.

The agency budgeted $105,000 in financial assistance this year, but it looks as if it will reach $130,000 she said. This is compared to $25,000 Christian Community Action disbursed.

The money is used to help clients with critical financial issues, such as making rent payments.

“It’s important to keep people from eviction,” she said, “to keep families in their homes.”

Equally important is food.

“We see 750 unique families a month,” she said, adding P2P is not the only agency feeding people. “What this is telling me is the food insecurity is enormous.”

She told of a man who visited the food pantry and was grateful to be able to get cookies and juice to give his children as an after-school snack he otherwise could not afford.

“Because of the recession and slow recovery, the working poor have seen the recession not go away,” Ms. Maher said. They are primarily those who work in the service industries as gardeners, housekeepers and fast-food employees. “It is very difficult for them to live here,” she said.

The amount of food that is being given out is 14% ahead of last year, Ms. Maher said, and financial assistance is up as well.

Last year, 1,128 people were helped at a cost of $274,000. This year she estimates 1,400 families will be helped and “for sure we will hit $400,000.”

The agency considers itself a “last resource” for financial help, and there are limits on how long people may draw on that help.

The agency has a $3-million cash budget. Of that, 35% comes from corporate and foundation grants, and 11% from fund-raising events. The rest comes from civic groups, Scout troops, churches, synagogues, etc.

The agency also receives $7 million in in-kind donations such as clothing. Last year 50,000 bags of free clothes were given away.

Underpinning it all is an army of 3,000 volunteers who do “substantive work,” Ms. Maher said. Far beyond stuffing envelopes, volunteers book appointments with clients and run certain programs. For example, there are six teams of volunteers who interview student applicants for college scholarships.

People may volunteer on a regular basis or for a special event. Among the agency’s volunteers have been Wilton High School seniors during their internship program.

Two hundred high school students run the agency, with adult mentors, on Thursday nights and Saturdays.

According to the agency’s annual report for 2012, P2P:

• Provided groceries for 449,316 meals.

• Distributed $273,905 in financial assistance for rent, security deposits and utilities.

• Gave toys and books to 2,195 children during the holidays.

• Awarded $356,272 in college scholarships to 170 students resulting in a graduation rate of 80%.

• Allocated $315,670 to send children to summer camp.

Ms. Maher, who has been with P2P for eight and a half years, said within the coming six months the Norwalk site should be at full capacity.

Those who need help may call 203-939-1650 and ask to speak with a caseworker.

Those who would like to volunteer may call Janet King, director of volunteers.

Those who would like to make a financial donation may call the office or visit online at