Region rallies to brighten holidays for the needy

By Janice Steinhagen - Staff Writer
Region - posted Wed., Dec. 5, 2012
Toys and books collected last year by the Griswold Youth Center and the Jewett City Fire Department made Christmas a little brighter for area children. Courtesy photo. - Contributed Photo

As Christmas approaches, the prospect of a bleak holiday looms for many families affected by the economic downturn or other situations. But a variety of local agencies, organizations and groups are also gearing up, above and beyond their year-round efforts, to brighten the season for those who can’t afford all the trappings of the holiday. All of these efforts depend on assistance from generous donors in the towns, but every little bit helps. “If you spread the help around, it’s not a big load,” said Dot Banning of Bozrah, who helps spearhead that town’s Christmas gift drive.

Several Griswold agencies are renewing their annual projects to assist needy local families. The A.A. Young Hose and Ladder Co. No. 1 (the Jewett City Fire Department) is conducting its annual toy and boot drive at Town Hall on Main Street on Saturday, Dec. 8, from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Firefighters will be collecting new, unwrapped toys and boots in sizes for children. “In the past we’ve done hats, gloves and coats,” said Assistant Fire Chief Robert Hanson. “We’re trying to cover kids head to toe.” He said that this year, the town’s resident state troopers “asked if they could help out, and we accepted them gladly.”

The firefighters’ project dovetails with the Griswold Youth Center’s annual Holiday Helpers program, which provides gifts for about 100 local families who have already registered. Donors are being sought to sponsor families or individuals through this program, purchasing age-appropriate toys, clothes and gift cards.  Gifts should be delivered to the Youth Center at the Slater Mill Mall by Dec. 17. For more information, call Youth Center Director Ryan Aubin at 860-376-7026.

In Norwich, the Salvation Army has its ubiquitous red kettles staffed by bell-ringers at 17 sites in the city and its surrounding communities. Captain Jerry Uttley said that this year’s goal is $125,000, a $3,000 increase over last year’s collection, based on the increased need. The money, he said, “helps meet the needs of the community for Christmas and throughout the next fiscal year.” The Army serves both Norwich and the outlying communities of northern New London County, he said. So far, they have 220 area families who have signed up to receive a Christmas food basket, he said.

This Saturday, Dec. 8, the Salvation Army will team up with Wal-Mart in both Norwich and Lisbon to fill a truck in each location with new toys and coats. Hours for that event are 9 a.m.-5 p.m., but donors are also welcome to drop off donations at the Salvation Army’s 262 Main St. office in Norwich during business hours, 9 a.m.-3:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. For more information, call 860-889-2329.

St. Vincent DePaul Place in Norwich, which runs a food pantry and soup kitchen throughout the year, is aiming to distribute 1,000 books to needy children this December, said board member Corinne Kelly. “We give them to all the kids who come to the food pantry,” she said. In addition, the center would welcome personal hygiene items, especially shampoo and deodorant, as well as hats and warm men’s gloves. Donations can be brought to St. Vincent DePaul Place at 120 Cliff St., in Norwich during its open hours, 8 a.m.-2 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

Bozrah’s three churches – St. John Catholic, Bozrah Congregational and Bozrah Baptist – team up annually to adopt local families in need and provide gifts for their members. Banning, a parishioner at St. John’s, said that church members take cards from a “giving tree” listing one person’s wished-for gifts. “They don’t get the names, they just get the ages of the children,” she said. “[The children] get an outfit and a couple of toys.” The churches also “adopt” residents of a local nursing home and a group home too, providing such things as shaving kits or other personal items. “We put all the tags on the tree this Sunday – we had about 50 tags on there,” she said. “Only one was left after services.”

Bozrah Town Clerk Lynne Skinner said that town residents in need can file a confidential request at town hall for a holiday food basket during regular hours: Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Thursday 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Fire Chief Tom Main, Jr., said that the Bozrah Fire Department’s cadets conducted a food drive at the town Christmas tree lighting ceremony last weekend. Donations from that effort will be used to re-stock the town’s food pantry, he said.


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