Interfaith Human Services of Putnam holds volunteer recognition night

By Denise Coffey - Staff Writer
Putnam - posted Fri., Jun. 28, 2013
Shawn Johnston and Dave Dunham give Wendy Warren-Cudworth a bowl for her volunteer work. Photos by D. Coffey.
Shawn Johnston and Dave Dunham give Wendy Warren-Cudworth a bowl for her volunteer work. Photos by D. Coffey.

Interfaith Human Services of Putnam held a volunteer recognition dinner on June 18. In attendance were more than 40 community members who have taken it upon themselves to provide the most basic of help where help is needed.

Established in 2005, the IHSP is an all-volunteer, charitable organization that oversees the operation of the Daily Bread Food Pantry, the Clothing Closet, and the Diaper Bank of Northeastern Connecticut. The organization also provides fuel and heating assistance, as well as homelessness prevention funds. At Thanksgiving they provide food baskets and in the summer they've offered free meals to children.

But on the June 18, they took a few hours to gather together and share the successes IHSP has achieved over the years. The dinner was modest: a tray of meatballs, macaroni and cheese, sandwiches, potato salad, rolls, salad and potato chips with a choice of beverages. Glasses of lemonade, ice tea, bottled water and cups of coffee were raised often that evening in recognition of the good people who pick up food from Connecticut Food Bank, organize donated clothes, and pick up the weekly contributions from area stores that fill the coffers of the Daily Bread.

"The board members put on a recognition dinner once a year so that we can all be in the same place together,” David Dunham said. Dunham is the treasurer for IHSP, and he had great news to share with volunteers that evening. The organization saw $88,000 in donations last year, and spent $80,000. “Donations have kept pace with our needs,” Dunham said. “We're blessed to have such a generous community.” IHSP is supported by a wide range of community groups and local businesses. Churches have banded together. Each year donations have risen, according to Dunham. “We're even Internet-savvy,” he added. “People can contribute using Paypal on our website.”

The roots of IHSP go back 30 years, when Daily Bread was started in the basement of St. Mary's Church. Over the years, as the community and its needs have grown, so has its mission. That mission has attracted a loyal cadre of volunteers and supporters. Those volunteers have stocked shelves, picked up groceries, assisted at fundraisers, pledged money, cooked food, washed dishes, sat through board meetings, and found a variety of ways to plug into the area-wide effort to help those in need.

Board of Directors President Shawn Johnston said volunteers were motivated for a variety of reasons. “You might have had time or money to donate,” he said. “A friend might have asked you to help. Maybe you'd been helped before and want to give back. Maybe your church motivated you. For whatever reason, our region is the better for it. We don't know how to thank you other than feeding you,” he said with a laugh.

Wendy Warren-Cudworth, Annie Hinkley and Holly-Ann Gilbert were recognized for their volunteerism with hand-thrown bowls from Sawmill Pottery in Putnam. Warren-Cudworth has  volunteered for eight years, and served as Coordinator of the Clothing Closet before stepping down to focus her attention on helping the homeless in the area. Since then, she has taken it upon herself to bring food to places they gather. It's hard to find them because they don't want to be found, she said. “But once they trust you, they trust you,” she said.

Hinkley was recognized for her longtime commitment and volunteer efforts. She used to drive to Hartford and Windsor to pick up food from Connecticut Food Bank locations. Now mobile vans come to Putnam where volunteers have a much shorter commute to pick up food.

Gilbert's community service includes 30 years at Daily Bread, 10 of them as director. Her husband and children helped as well. “As the needs grew, my duties changed,” she said. “My grace is that I learn from everyone I come in contact with.”

Martin Carlson started volunteering as part of a church-related effort. Carlson found himself doing more and more for Daily Bread. Now he collects groceries once a week from area stores. Bread comes in from Country Kitchens, canned and non-perishables from Price Chopper, and frozen meats from Stop and Shop. He estimates that 150 to 200 pounds of meat is donated weekly. Once he picked up a donation of 30 cases of incandescent light bulbs. “This is my mission field,” Carlson said. “I believe we need to take care of our neighbors.”

Helen Ferland started the Diaper Bank in 2011 with only three clients. Soon she was fielding calls from as far south as Plainfield. Today there are two mobile diaper banks and they make drops in Killingly, Brooklyn and Plainfield once a month. Last year the bank was able to offer 110,000 diapers to the community. Huggies donated 40,000 of them. Funds came in from a Celebrity Bartender's Night, as well as donations from the Rotary Club, Lions Clubs, and Catholic Charities. “It's been doing awesome,” Ferland reported. “Every little bit covers every little bottom.”

Johnston recognized IHSP Publicity Chair Sarah Hamby for getting the news of the organization's work out to the public. “That was our weakness as a board,” Johnston said. “We did good work, but not a lot of people knew about it. We can see Sarah's work in the bottom line. As people see what we do, they donate.”

The Rev. Edwin VonderHeide was recognized as serving as the conscience of the organization. Walmart Manager Michael Douglas was recognized for bringing his business acumen to the board. Ann Kathi Peterson received a round of applause for her support for Daily Bread. “She has by her hard work, organization and skills kept this group alive,” Johnston said. “We're all appreciative of her wisdom, advice and strength."

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