For 8 years, The Day's 'Make a Difference' series has done just that

Every year since 2008, The Day has reserved space within its pages to highlight local charitable and nonprofit organizations and the people they serve.

It’s a relatively simple idea: Around the holidays, those organizations that wish to participate provide us with details about the needs of an individual or family they serve, along with information about the people’s stories and their first names. We publish it. Then readers of The Day donate as they see fit.

Last week, organizations that have participated in the Make a Difference series so far told The Day it’s made a world of difference.

At Safe Futures, a moment from a couple of years ago was the first thing that popped into the mind of Emma Palzere-Rae, director of development and communications.

A woman who’d just had a baby — and had just left a nasty relationship — came with a minivan to pick up the items people had donated, Palzere-Rae recalled. What she saw stunned her: The donations were so plentiful she was going to need to make two trips.

“It can be overwhelming for them, in a positive way, that people out in the community care for them that much, or that they paid attention,” Palzere-Rae said, explaining that people living in abusive relationships often are isolated and told they’re worthless.

“When they get that outpouring, it’s just a big reinforcement of everything we’ve been telling them,” she said.

Judy Mann, who, among other things, oversees operations at the New London Community Meal Center, said being featured in the series has “helped significantly.”

“One year one of our rooms was completely filled with toys and clothing,” Mann said, adding that many families and individuals who are hungry have other needs, too. “It was the most wonderful feeling — the people were so thrilled.”

Mann said the fact that the series includes first names and real stories helps people identify with those in need — and it reminds people who may be caught up in their own worlds that there are people in need.

“It makes them more aware,” she said. “Maybe they see a family listed and think, ‘I don’t have shoes for kids, but I’ll put a check in the mail.

“It helps people see that there are so many people in need,” she added.

The donations don’t always come in the form of items or money, either, according to Reona Dyess, executive director of the Drop-in Community Learning and Resource Center.

Back in 2010, the center listed the story of Sara, who was struggling to provide for three daughters and was forced to drive a car with no muffler and malfunctioning brake lights to and from work.

In short order, mechanics had fixed the car, free of charge.

“What’s so amazing is the generosity of our region,” Dyess said. “People are so wonderful.”

Palzere-Rae, too, said she’s seen companies step in to donate services.

“A preteen boy, he had a Gameboy or an Xbox on his list, but he also wanted a door for his bedroom,” she said. “We said, ‘What’s that about?’”

They learned that the father, before leaving, had trashed the house and ripped wires out of its walls.

“When a construction group saw that in the paper, they called us up and asked us questions,” Palzere-Rae said. “Then they volunteered a whole day at the family’s home and repaired everything.”

Palzere-Rae said the children of that family drew pictures and brought cookies in a visit to Safe Futures not long after Christmas that year.

“They didn’t think they were going to have any kind of Christmas that year,” she said. “I think those little squares in the paper become a conduit for the Christmas miracles we’re always waiting for.”

This year’s Make a Difference series is scheduled to run every day from Nov. 23 through Dec. 22.

l.boyle@theday.com

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