By Mike Chaiken
Janet Mellon, the director of Community Services for the town, hopes others will follow in the footsteps of Miss Southington Pre-Teen Haley Derwin.
Haley, 11, a sixth grader at Kennedy Middle School, recently donated a bundle of children’s toys to community services for distribution during the upcoming holidays. The money was raised through a can and bottle drive the local title holder has been holding on an ongoing basis, explained Haley.
Haley said she made the donation “because it helps kids without homes and who don’t have any toys.”
Each year, the community services department holds an Adopt-A-Family program, explained Mellon.
Mark Fazzolari, the assistant director, explained with Adopt-A-Family, families apply to community services to buy holiday items for families in need. They are provided with a list of items the family in need would like and those who step forward to help can buy all or some of the items on the list.
But not every family is adopted, said Mellon. And not every volunteer/ donor wants the commitment of adopting a family, said Mellon.
And that’s where Mellon hopes that Haley’s donation starts a trend.
People are encouraged, if they can’t Adopt-A-Family, to give what they can—just as Haley did with the toys she bought with the funds collected from her can and bottle drive, said Mellon.
Linda Mendelsohn, a volunteer at community services, said toys aren’t the only donations people can make. Gift cards make a great gift for teens as do movie passes.
“We can’t keep up with the passes,” said Mellon.
Also, electronic games, CD players, and earbuds fill the lists of teenagers Community Services serves, she said.
Mendelsohn said there also are many items families need that most donors don’t consider. For instance, blankets and sheets top the list. Pillows, towels, personal hygiene items, shaving supplies, deodorants, socks, sweatpants, and shirts also are needed. Additionally, winter coats of all sizes and for all ages also are appreciated by the people served by the department.
If the gifts don’t go toward the Adopt-A-Family program, Mendelsohn said they will be used for other holiday programs. The department holds an annual luncheon for seniors, in which attendee receives a gift.
Fazzolari also said the department holds an annual holiday party for children, where the children can go “shopping” for three items for a family member. (There is no money necessary for the “shopping” trip since the items have been donated, said Fazzolari.) Those items are pulled from donations such as Haley’s.
Although Southington is perceived as relatively affluent, Mellon said her department helps more families than one would think. She said 70 families a day come into pick up food from the community pantry. That’s 350 families—with one to three people each—who use the pantry per week. From July 2013 to June 2014, Mellon said her department served a total of 417,375 meals and served an average of 1,153 people per month.
“Our (reported) numbers are probably on the low side,” said Mellon.
Fazzolari explained those numbers don’t include the people who come in each day for bread and produce in addition to the weekly grocery pick-up.
“We get a lot of support from the community,” said Mellon. “If people can do what Haley did, we could be in great shape.”
For more information or to find out how to help, call Southington Community Services at (860) 628-3761.
By Mike Chaiken