GOOD Morning Wilton frequently features community organizations and individual efforts to help others during the holiday season. Quite often those efforts are tailored to make Wilton Social Services the beneficiary of whatever fundraising or philanthropy they’ve organized.

For this story* we went straight to the source, to speak with Cathy Pierce, director of Wilton’s social services department to encourage you to give directly. She’s always very appreciative of all the efforts, especially at this time of year, that multiple organizations make to benefit her department, whether through food drives, putting together Thanksgiving baskets and the like.

The department serves a larger, umbrella mission, meeting the social and psychological needs of Wilton residents of all ages. That can be through providing information and referrals to local, state and federal social service programs, financial assistance, short term counseling, and by sponsoring the Wilton Senior Center and community programs for all ages. The department also oversees Wilton Youth Services.

The Department works closely with other town departments to provide assistance and support to Wilton residents. On average the food pantry serves about 50-60 clients in a given month. About 100 people need regular help with food, emergency financial assistance, and guidance in applying for other relief programs or referrals.

“It was 2008 that the need pretty much shot up, and it’s stayed up every year. Since then, we have had pretty much a high consistent level of need,” Pierce said. “Although families will find employment, it seems that as soon as one family gets on their feet, another family comes in.” This Thanksgiving, Social Services distributed 70 Thanksgiving baskets. They typically receive 50-55 applications for energy assistance every year, and also provide funds to cover emergency fuel needs before applications are processed.

“Once the CT state funds for heat are exhausted, that’s when we move into our own local funds. That’s a pretty high need every year,” she added.

Thankfully, said Pierce, there’s been a consistent meeting of those needs. “The Wilton community is very generous. That’s something that has been really heartwarming for all of us to see that. The Food Pantry is strongly supported–we get checks every week for the food pantry. Whenever we have had a need for heating assistance, people have stepped up. People will help, it’s a great thing.”

Food Pantry Needs

One frequently-asked question is how can individuals donate food to the Food Pantry. “The hours social services is open is 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. People can always bring donations directly to the office during those hours, unless it’s a lot. Larger amounts should be brought directly to the pantry, but it’s best to come when the pantry is not open,” Pierce said, explaining that confidentiality and anonymity for the department’s clients is the most important consideration they make.

“Call first to make sure we can open the door. We want the clients to be able to come without worry that they’ll run into a neighbor. It’s better for people to call us and ask to schedule a time to make larger deliveries.”

As for what items are needed, Pierce was clear:  “People from home should not bring perishable food; they should bring non-perishable items. But we always need paper products and laundry detergent. They are two items that people who are receiving SNAP–the government’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps–they are not allowed to buy those with their benefits,” Pierce explained.

She added that there is always a need for donations of personal care products–”That falls into the same category as paper products and laundry detergent.” These items include shampoo, deodorant, toothpaste and tooth brushes, soap and the like.

This year, there is also a need for diapers. “We have babies this year.”  Pierce said all sizes are needed–for young toddlers, infants and babies.

Monetary Gifts

People can always make straight monetary donations, either for general reasons or specifically for discretionary accounts. Pierce asked that people write the check for the Wilton Community Assistance Fund and in the memo line of the check, they can specify what they want the money to go toward: the “Food Pantry,” the “Holiday Program,” or it could go toward “Heat.” She explained in detail what each of the programs are:

  • Wilton Social Services runs a “Fuel Assistance Program.” “It’s winter, so our fuel assistance needs are going to be growing. If people would be like to donate to the Wilton Community Assistance Fund, highlighting ‘heat’ is what they want their donation to be used for, that would be appreciated. We spend thousands of dollars every winter. I suspect it’s going to be a colder winter. Donations toward heat would be very appreciated,” Pierce said.
  • The “Holiday Giving Program,” where people can purchase gifts for children whose families are clients of the social services department. “Those families hand in a wish list of things, up to $100 per child. People can call us and sponsor one or more children.” Lauren Hughes is the social worker who oversees that program and she can be reached at 203.834.6328 to talk about what’s needed.

There are about 100 children this year in the Holiday Giving Program, and most of those have been assigned to someone. Hughes explained that younger children typically ask for more tangible toys and gifts; she prefers to give older children gift cards. She also stressed that donations can come in any amount. “It doesn’t have to be $100. It can be $10 or it can be $1,000. Any amount we’re delighted to receive because we have all these kids to take care of, and we’d like to purchase the gift cards by the middle of December.”

Both Pierce and Hughes repeated how Wilton is typically amazing generous. “Last year we raised $8,700, so we were able to do a little more for some of the kids.”

One thing that is worth noting, donations made to the Wilton Community Assistance Fund, are tax deductible, and donors will receive a gift receipt for their donation.

Donations can be mailed or dropped off to Wilton’s department of Social Services, which is located at Comstock Community Center, 180 School Rd., Wilton.

*Editor’s Note:  This article was adapted from a similar story that GMW ran last year. It’s another significant hint that Wilton is a community that also has great need that may not be as apparent on the surface and it’s ever-present, year after year.