The Day's charity series 'makes a difference' in 10th year

As the need for assistance around the holidays grows, residents of New London County continue to turn out to help their neighbors in The Day's "Make a Difference" series.

Care and Share of East Lyme, for example, received about $2,000 in donations for this year's family, a single mother with four school-age children. Norm Bender, president of the organization, said several volunteers have been working with the family to purchase the items they need.

The campaign allows area organizations to identify families with the greatest needs and "make a difference" in their lives, he said.

Starting the day before Thanksgiving, The Day runs short articles each day about one family from almost 30 different organizations throughout the area. Some of the recipients have battled homelessness, substance abuse, domestic violence or, in one case this year, losing everything in Hurricane Maria.

A newcomer to the series this year, the state Department of Children and Families sought donations for children in its Independent Living program. These children are aging out of the foster system and often have nothing to help them set up their own housing, according to Susan Connolly, who helped coordinate the DCF collection.

She said the kids asked for clothing, items for their new apartments and gift cards to go shopping or out to dinner with their siblings, many of whom are also in the foster system. As of Tuesday, DCF had received enough money in donations to shop for nearly 80 children, and Connolly said they received another $2,000 donation in the mail Friday.

The Jewish Federation of Eastern Connecticut received more than $1,200 in donations from this year's campaign, which office manager Mimi Perl called "phenomenal." She said they were able to provide their goal of $200 in Walmart gift cards for the recent widow and her two teenage children they sponsored. Because of the extra support, they were also able to give smaller gift cards to 23 other people who have come to the organization for help.

Alisa Lecours, supportive housing director with Reliance Health, said Dale, the father of the family they sponsored this year, saw the donations when he stopped into the office on Dec. 19 and said his wife would probably cry when they were delivered. In addition to clothing and toys, the family received a nearly-new washing machine and dryer.

"People were so generous," Lecours said. "He's such a deserving guy."

Melanie White, transitional support specialist for Martin House, works with Joe, the client sponsored this year. He had a simple wish list, dominated mostly by clothing; his big ticket items were a gift certificate to a Chinese restaurant and classical music CDs. She said he was in awe of the generosity of strangers.

White said Joe had been feeling isolated from his family this holiday season, but the influx of donations over the last two weeks, including clothing and the coveted CDs and Chinese food gift certificate, cheered him up.

In addition to a generous toy donation that filled the wish lists of 93 children, Riverfront Children's Center also received about $1,000 for rent, gift cards and a variety of pots, pans and cooking utensils for the family they sponsored. Because her microwave is broken, the mother had asked for kitchen supplies so she could use the stove to cook for her two children.

Susan Radway, director at the center, said the mother is working with the center's finance director to set up a budget and is learning how to cook so she can stretch her income further.

Alliance for Living featured a single woman who was adopting four of her nieces and nephews after the death of their parents. All she asked for was gift cards for food and clothing and toys for the kids. Carol Jones, director of medical case management, delivered the donations on Dec. 19 and said the woman was "overwhelmed" when she saw the community response to her story.

"She got wonderful clothes, toys, books, all kinds of things for the kids and she's so grateful," Jones said, calling the response "fabulous" this year. "It was a great success as always, and we so appreciate The Day and this program."

a.hutchinson@theday.com

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