Social Services: The need for help is still great
The winter months, with holidays and colder weather, are a busy time for Wilton Social Services. Despite its relative wealth as a community, there are still people in Wilton who cannot pay all their bills at this time of year. The department steps in where it can with referrals, counseling, emergency funds, and special programs to help the most vulnerable.
Just last month, 65 Thanksgiving baskets were given away, thanks to the generosity of local families and organizations.
Now, as the holiday shopping season gets into full swing, there will be some generous people who will be shopping for children who are not their own.
They are people — as well as organizations — who have “adopted” a Wilton child through Wilton Social Services’ Holiday Giving program. They are shopping for gifts to put under each child’s tree.
Lauren Hughes, at Social Services, has a list of 100 children who have submitted their wish lists. There are still children without a benefactor.
The children range in age from toddlers to high school seniors, and donors may spend up to $100 per child. Some have identified specific gifts they wish to receive while others have asked for gift cards.
If there is money left over from cash donations received, Cathy Pierce, director of social services, said the program will be extended to college freshmen as well.
This program has been a staple of Wilton Social Services for years, Ms. Pierce said, but it never served as many families as it has in recent years.
“Before 2008 it was a much smaller program,” she said. “It probably served fewer than 20 children.”
When the economy soured in 2008, the program grew rapidly and has served around 100 the last few years.
Gifts will be given on Dec. 17. Anyone who wishes to participate may call Ms. Hughes at 203-834-6238.
The food pantry at Comstock Community Center is used by about 60 families a month who made 1,448 visits last year.
The food that lines the pantry shelves and fills its refrigerators comes from several sources:
• Community food drives.
• Donations from Community Plates, which salvages perishable items from Trader Joe’s.
• Purchases from the Connecticut Food Bank.
• Purchases at cost of perishables from Village Market.
The pantry also receives cash donations from donors and fund-raisers held by civic groups throughout the year.
Families may visit the food pantry once per week. It is open Monday through Thursday, and as of Jan. 1, the hours will change to:
• Monday: 1:45-4.
• Tuesday: 9-noon, 2-5.
• Wednesday: 1:45-4.
• Thursday: 9-noon.
“Throughout the year the food pantry receives cash and food donations,” Ms. Pierce said. “We usually see a dip in February and over the summer. During those lulls we use [cash] donations to buy food.”
The town contributes $11,250 for the pantry to purchase perishables, at no markup, from the Village Market in Wilton Center. These purchases — which include milk, eggs, meat, fruits, and vegetables — are made weekly and are reserved for clients with children. Perishable items from the Connecticut Food Bank and Community Plates are available to single clients and couples without children.
Last year, the Wilton Community Assistance Fund spent $5,100 on food for the pantry.
Without community donations and volunteer hours, Ms. Pierce said, the pantry would need “three times that much.”
“We absolutely could not run the kind of food pantry we do without the volunteers and people in town who support us with food drives and donations,” she said. Volunteers from RSVP work at the food pantry every day it is open.
For details on making a donation, call 203-834-6238.
Neighbors in need
There are currently 132 families on Ms. Pierce’s client list who have come in for assistance of one form or another. That number does not include families served by Wilton Youth Services or seniors who receive help signing up for Medicare.
Ms. Pierce, who is the only full-time social worker employed by the town, counsels clients on available services such as SNAP (food stamps), HUSKY (Healthcare for UninSured Kids and Youth), health insurance through the state exchange, and emergency financial assistance.
So far this season, Ms. Pierce has delivered 37 applications for heating assistance through the Connecticut Energy Assistance Program (CEAP). She expects that number to increase.
The state program offers grants of $300 to $500 to help people pay their fuel bills for the entire season. The grants are awarded on a sliding scale based on income, and some people will qualify for an additional grant. But many will not.
Last winter, Ms. Pierce took in 41 CEAP applications. Of those, 34 families also received local assistance to pay their heating bills.
The Wilton Community Assistance Fund, which is an umbrella organization that collects charitable donations for the food pantry and fuel fund, spent $22,255 on fuel grants last winter.
“It could be twice that depending on the weather,” Ms. Pierce said of this season’s need.
There is money in the fuel fund but it is low, Ms. Pierce said, and donations are vital. Donations to the Wilton Community Assistance Fund may be earmarked for the fuel fund or food pantry and may be sent to Ms. Pierce at Wilton Social Services, Comstock Community Center, 180 School Road, Wilton 06897.
Ms. Pierce also has discretion in distributing emergency funds to help people avoid eviction by assisting with rent or mortgage payments.
After a crisis — such as threat of eviction or loss of heat — is resolved, the clients and Ms. Pierce work together to prevent future financial emergencies.
Wilton Social Services will also be the beneficiary of donations from the Wilton Women’s Cub and the County Assemblies, which have pledged funds for an extracurricular program.
This will provide assistance to financially eligible client families to enroll their children in sports programs, music or dance lessons, SAT prep courses, and similar opportunities.