‘Tis the Season! We’re inspired by great stories we hear about Wiltonians demonstrating incredible generosity, compassion and good will during this time of year. We’re sharing these stories and ask readers to send us other recent examples they’ve witnessed of the true meaning of the holiday season on display. Send your stories, photos, anecdotes and anything else to editor@goodmorningwilton.com and we’ll make sure residents and non-residents alike will get to see Wilton’s true nature of kindness and holiday spirit.

Cruiser, Stuffed!

This past Sunday, Dec. 17, Wilton’s Finest and Bravest capped off an impressive annual effort for Toys for Tots with another bountiful Stuff-a-Cruiser event–made wonderful by the generosity of Wilton residents who turned out in droves to donate toys and gifts for children in need.

During Sunday’s event, the Wilton Police and Fire Departments stationed a cruiser outside of Wilton’s Toy Chest in the Wilton River Park Shopping Center from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., and were happy to accept unwrapped toys. Residents were so generous that the car was filled multiple times over. Thanks to everyone who donated, the departments filled their second of two truck-loads this week with goodies to deliver to the Toys for Tots collection spot in Ridgefield. [See WHS Football story, below]

Ridgefield is home to the local collection depot for the U.S. Marine Corps Toys for Tots program in Northwest Fairfield County. It coordinates satisfying need in the towns of Bethel, Wilton, Brookfield, Danbury, New Fairfield, New Milford, Newtown, Ridgefield and Weston, and help agencies, charities and organizations in those towns that work directly with children and families in need to provide toys and gifts for the holidays.

One way those donations directly give back to Wilton is when Wilton Social Services director Sarah Heath and coordinator Lauren Hughes are able to go to the Ridgefield collection clearinghouse and essentially shop from the toys that have been collected for the Wilton families and children who receive services here.

“We went through our lists and figured what we needed,” Heath explains. Which was amazing, they were very generous. They said, ‘Take what you need.’ It works out really well. It’s amazing to be in an area like this.”

Wilton Social Service Offices Packed with Gifts, Baskets and Donations

Heath says that the Toys for Tots resource, combined with the generosity of Wilton residents, has enabled her department to be able to provide a great deal to those who they serve. “Right now, Lauren’s office (left) is literally packed with gifts,” she marvels.

Still in her first year as director of Wilton Social Services, Heath is overwhelmed with how big-hearted Wilton residents are, and how their magnanimity is on display in lots of ways.

“I cannot tell you how insanely generous the residents and organizations here in Wilton are. Anyone who comes into our office  who has any sort of need, specifically for the holidays, we’re able to be very generous, for that reason. It is really great,” she says.

Among the many ways Wilton helps out:

  • Starting at Thanksgiving, the Wilton Woman’s Club puts together holiday meals for homebound seniors and other residents in need of a hot meal. The Club will repeat their efforts again, this coming weekend right before the Christmas holiday.
  • Straight donations are thankfully plentiful this time of year. Anything that come straight to the Social Services office will directly benefit residents served by the department. “If somebody wants to donate to our office, which goes 100% to residents in need, the best thing would be general gift cards so people can buy food or last minute holiday needs. We hold onto anything left over and use them very carefully through the year,” Heath says.
  • Many Wilton groups take part in the department’s Holiday Basket Projects, putting together baskets for families served by Social Services, filled with food supplies, gift wrapping, gift cards and more at Thanksgiving and again before Christmas. One major effort happens at Cider Mill School, which has taken part every year for the last two decades. They receive a list of 50 families, and keeping names anonymous, assign one family to each of Cider Mill’s 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade classrooms. Each class is given a general description so students can collect items matching the approximate ages of the members of the family they’ve been assigned. Each classroom’s baskets and boxes fill up with non-perishable food, wrapping paper, small gifts, and even gift cards to local merchants. Parks and Recreation employees pick up and deliver the baskets and boxes directly to the families in need throughout town. “Those were huge and amazing, it was just really nice,” Heath said of the Cider Mill Baskets.
Cider Mill Students (L-R): Jack Schwartz, Luke Morin, Andrew Partenza, Giuliana Scaturchio, Kelly Beneventano, and Lia Lombardi
Cider Mill Students Pictured from Left to Right: Aiden Cannavino, Connor Buchichio, Or Eisdorfer, Ananya Peddinti, Greta Engel, and Abby Phelan with Michael Pirre and Douglas Katz from Parks and Rec.
  • Other groups take part as well, either by sponsoring specific families or with general gifts. “Today we got a very generous donation from the Wilton Congregational Church, and every day people give. For example, the Wilton Working Moms group gave. So many groups–a minimum of 20 groups are participating to give to our clients this season. They give everything–some organizations and some individuals are matched with an individual or a family to purchase specific items that the family said are needed for their children; or they give movie gift cards for families to use over the winter break. And other times it’s general donations. It’s really across the board.,” Heath says.
  • There were also donations specifically made to Social Service client families that celebrate Hanukkah, so that they could celebrate earlier than Christmas, before the holiday started on Dec. 13. Temple B’nai Chaim is very generous at the holidays and individual residents also make gift card donations directly to the Social Service Hanukkah Fund.

Once the holidays are over, though, need doesn’t diminish. For that there is the general Wilton Community Assistance Fund. Social Services staff can often offer families and residents assistance to supplement with energy costs, unexpected expenses or health care bills, or potential other unanticipated needs.

“But really the last thing we do is provide financial assistance. We make sure they have a roof over their heads, that they have food–the Food Pantry exists for that reason; we want to make sure they have health insurance; we encourage them to apply for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP); we let them know of other opportunities in the area that could help them. We do a little of everything, casework-wise. And we have people who come into the office who have other needs as well,” Heath explains.

Wilton Football Families Help Police & Fire Stuff-a-Cruiser with Toy Donations

Pictured L-R, front row: Officer Sean Frendt, Tyler Previte, Stephen Kendra, Andrew Luciano, Joey Seaman, Max Colburn, Officer Steve Zawacki, Firefighter Captain Brian Elliott, back row: Mike Wehrli, Firefighter Dave Chaloux, Trey Snyder and Officer Eric Patenaude.

The Wilton High School Football Program wrapped up the 2017 season with a banquet brunch on Sunday, Dec. 17. The event was attended by 190 players, family members, coaches and guests. The team celebrated the season and honored 18 high school senior players, including seven who received the “Warrior Commitment Award” for playing tackle football every year since the third grade in 2008.

As part of the event, families brought toys for the US Marine Corps Toys for Tots program. After the banquet, a group of player volunteers took over 75 toys to the Wilton Police & Fire “Stuff a Cruiser” event.

“We asked our families to step up and help, and they exceeded all expectations,” said Brian Colburn, Wilton Football Booster Club president. “We really appreciate the effort from the Wilton Police and Fire Departments in making this happen. Hopefully these gifts will brighten spirits of young people in need all over Fairfield County during the holidays.”

Wilton Police Officer Sean Frendt, who helped organize the “Stuff-a-Cruiser” event, was pleased to see the players arrive in several cars with toys. “Donations were good on Sunday, but the football team really put us over the top and helped us beat our goal,” Officer Frendt said.