Hudspeth: Donations will help children breathe easier

Stephen Hudspeth

Stephen Hudspeth

Staff / Hearst Connecticut Media

What’s to be done when COVID-19 prevents a major town event?

Every fall for the past 11 years (and continuing when COVID constraints end), Wi-ACT has held its huge all-day Rise Against Hunger meal-packaging event that each year prepares more than 150,000 hermetically sealed and highly nutritious meals.

The objective of the substitute event for this year is to capture key elements of the Rise event in a COVID-protected way: specifically, the family-friendly, intergenerational, exhilarating, and highly important work of feeding the hungry. Wi-ACT has decided to do that by helping the families of local (tri-state area) children with cystic fibrosis (CF) where the families are seriously food insufficient.

The funds earlier raised for this year’s event were used to support highly rated nonprofit Rise Against Hunger, Inc.’s work overseas in other ways than with those packaged meals, including with bulk shipment of ingredients. That doesn’t work as well as the meals, but it’s better than nothing.

In pre-COVID times, Wi-ACT’s 750 volunteers of all ages and from all across our community come together joyfully each year to package enough meals to load a 40-foot ocean-going container. The meals are shipped to wherever in the world the need is greatest. If you’ve experienced that meal-packaging work, then you’re part of the team, but if you haven’t yet, Wi-ACT will gladly welcome you on board!

One of the most moving aspects of this meal-packaging work is seeing the youngest volunteers so inspired and excited about their own contributions to the effort. Parents report how post-event discussions around the dinner table, thanks to this hands-on work, focus on their children’s concerns for the recipients and their gladness in being able to help.

At the opposite end of the age spectrum are seniors who check the weight of each meal package. Their interaction with the kids bringing them unsealed packages from the mixing stations is filled with warm smiles and a similar engagement in the joy, as well as the seriousness, of the event. Young and old alike understand that what they’re doing really matters.

So, how to capture that same feeling in COVID times? Motivated by a concept proposed by Wiltonian Jen Morello (one of those 750 meal-packaging volunteers), Wi-ACT’s Steering Committee considered possible synergies with its other work. One of Wi-ACT’s programs in addition to meal-packaging is to provide food, housing, and other assistance to young cystic fibrosis (CF) patients whose very breathing is so drastically compromised by their disease. They come to the U.S. for short-duration but life-saving clinical treatment unavailable in their home countries.

In fact, new advanced treatments are making possible a normal life expectancy for CF patients. However, the strains placed on families with a child suffering from CF when the family is without financial means can be overwhelming. So Wi-ACT is focusing its alternative-to-meal-packaging event for this year on these struggling local families.

During COVID, provision of food in cans or packages is not advisable. However, gift cards work very well. Wi-ACT is mobilizing those 750 meal-packaging volunteers (and others) to provide gift cards for food and also for holiday gifts, and it would like to see whole families of its volunteers engaged in this work. That engagement can take a variety of forms including kids writing notes to recipients and preparing decorative envelopes to hold the gift cards. The experience underscores with children in ways similar to the meal-packaging event the significance of work to meet the needs of others, whatever the challenges.

The gift cards will be distributed through the Stamford-based CF clinical program with which Wi-ACT has had that longstanding relationship in providing support for treatment of children with CF from overseas. That clinical program will in turn provide those gift cards and those notes and decorated envelopes to its social workers for distribution to local families.

Donors can send gift cards to Wi-ACT at its Post Office Box 572, Wilton, CT 06897. Please select gift cards for Amazon, Stop & Shop, or Target. Gifts in larger amounts for which the donor seeks an acknowledgment of charitable donation should be made to any of the 12 faith institutions that support Wi-ACT’s work (just about all of our town’s faith institutions) with a check memo notation that it’s for the “Wi-ACT CF Project.” You can mail notes and decorated gift-card envelopes for these child CF patients and their families to Wi-ACT’s P.O. Box 572 address. All will be much appreciated and gratefully received by children and their families who really need our support now.

Stephen Hudspeth lives on Glen Hill Road.