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Norwich Salvation Army in transition, but open and serving people in need

Norwich — Every year, Kathy Orfitelli, director of service extension for the Connecticut and Rhode Island region of the Salvation Army, looks for a miracle to fill the gap between the community's needs and donations and volunteers.

“I usually say: ‘I have a Christmas miracle somewhere in the state, something that I didn’t think was going to happen,'” Orfitelli said. “I think the Christmas miracle this year is going to be in Norwich.”

When former Norwich Salvation Army Commander Cheryl McCollum transferred to Ansonia in July, the Norwich unit transitioned from a corps into one of 38 “service units” in the state. Service units provide emergency and human services needs, overseen by a volunteer committee of community leaders.

The Salvation Army Norwich Service Unit also serves Griswold and Preston. Because of the region's high need, the Salvation Army Southern New England Division has hired a paid case worker to work with clients, said Orfitelli, who oversees service units in the Southern New England division.

“The Salvation Army has had a presence in Norwich for 136 years,” Orfitelli said. “So, when we made this transition, a lot of thought was put into making sure we had a strong presence in the community. Unlike other units, we were able to hire a case worker to do our work in Norwich.”

Case worker Maria Nott, who grew up in New London and now lives in Ledyard, started in September. She brings a background in crisis and trauma counseling, human resources, social services and home care, all of which “tie together,” she said, in her new position. She coordinates volunteers, assists people with financial emergencies and works with many local agencies to fill gaps in aid to people in need.

“I always had a desire to work with the Salvation Army,” said Nott, who had volunteered for the Norwich Salvation Army 10 years ago, “because I loved what they believed in and how they helped people. When they’re in crisis response mode, that excites me to be a part of that, to help other people.”

The Norwich unit ended its lease of the church on Boswell Avenue, Orfitelli said, because it wasn’t viable. The unit cannot host religious services or fellowship meetings during the pandemic.

Nott has an office at Lee Memorial United Methodist Church, 294 Washington St., Norwich, and has office hours Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. She cannot meet with clients in person. Everything is done over the phone, by email or text. She can be reached at (860) 559-2245 or maria.nott@use.salvationarmy.org.

This is a busy time for any Salvation Army unit. Nott is organizing the annual holiday Red Kettle fund drive to raise money for year-round operations — 90% of money collected stays in the community — and helping people struggling with job loss, food shortages, rent and utilities.

Nott and Orfitelli are thrilled with the welcome and assistance offered by local civic groups. The Norwich Rotary Community Corps and the city's two Rotary clubs, the Greater Norwich Area Clergy Association and teachers and students at Norwich Free Academy have volunteered to staff kettles at Norwich Stop & Shop and Walmart. Retired Salvation Army Major Erika Guenther staked a claim for her regular spot at the Stop & Shop kettle.

“This past Wednesday and Thursday were great days,” Orfitelli said, referring to meetings with the Rotary clubs to solidify the offers to help.

Orfitelli stressed there will be strict COVID-19 precautions at the red kettles, with touch-less cash drop-offs and Apple Pay available. Donations also can be made online.

The Salvation Army Norwich Service Unit will set up an Angel Tree at the Norwich Walmart this weekend, with tags bearing the names and gift wishes for more than 100 local children.

Daily, Nott has been assisting people with food, rent and utilities during the pandemic. The Salvation Army’s emergency assistance focuses on filling gaps for people who might not qualify for other assistance or are awaiting unemployment or food stamps. Sometimes, a one-time small grant to pay for a car repair can ensure someone won’t lose a job, Orfitelli said.

For four months, Connecticut Salvation Army units have been helping food pantries by providing Emergency Disaster Response Food Boxes, packed with canned meats, vegetables, pancake mixes, peanut butter, jelly, bread, cereal and shelf-stable milk, enough food for about 35 meals.

The Salvation Army is working with the state’s 211 Infoline system to provide food boxes for people who must quarantine because of COVID-19.

Orfitelli and Nott are “so grateful” to Lee Memorial church for providing office space and a spot for outdoor pick-up of the food boxes. Eventually, the Norwich service unit will need its own space to take donations of clothing and goods and to restart its regular food pantry.

“We’re open,” Orfitelli stressed for the Norwich Salvation Army Service Unit. “I feel like it’s a brand new ballgame. While we don’t have a church there, we’re still doing things under the mission of the Salvation Army, which is to serve others without discrimination in Christ’s name. Our heart is the same. We just look different.”

c.bessette@theday.com

How to help

The Salvation Army Norwich Service Unit is seeking donations to assist people in need.

Checks made out to “Salvation Army – Norwich” or Walmart and grocery store gift cards can be mailed to the Norwich Salvation Army, 294 Washington St., Norwich, CT 06360. Envelopes can be dropped off at the office, Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

For information, contact Maria Nott, social services case worker for Salvation Army Norwich Service Unit, (860) 559-2245 or maria.nott@use.salvationarmy.org">maria.nott@use.salvationarmy.org.

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