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Make A Difference recipients enjoy their gifts, thanks to the community

In another successful year of The Day's Make A Difference series, the community response made all the difference in the lives of individuals through nonprofits and organizations in the region.

Laura Malone, the chief administrative officer at Catholic Charities in Norwich, said on Monday she wished every donor could see the joy and relief of the recipients when they get their gifts.

One of them, Marleny Quintanilla, picked up her gifts Tuesday.

Quintanilla is from El Salvador and has spent the past year separated from her husband, taking care of her two young daughters, ages 7 and 3, on her own. For years she has been going to Catholic Charities for food items she can take home.

She said she was aware that every year the organization chooses a different family to help during the holidays and waited patiently for the year she would be chosen to give her girls a big Christmas.

Malone said Quintanilla and her girls received three huge beautifully wrapped boxes and four shopping bags full of items they had requested, such as winter coats, clothing, blankets and toys.

She also received more than $400 worth of gift cards and donations.

When her social worker handed her the gift cards, Quintanilla began to shed tears. Speaking Spanish, she thanked God for putting the desire to give in those that donated.

"God will always bless those that help," she said.

At Always Home, another single mother, who was diagnosed with cancer in the past year, was granted the help she needed for the season.

Faith, 40, is the mother of an 8-year-old boy. After a routine mammogram, she was told she had Stage 1, Grade 3 invasive breast cancer and underwent a double mastectomy. Due to complications, she developed an infection and had to have a second surgery. Currently in chemotherapy treatment, Faith is unable to work, and unpaid bills are mounting.

Always Home requested monetary donations to provide housing stability and peace of mind for Faith and other low-income families with young children. About $3,000 was raised from the community, all of which Faith will receive in several ways, such as in rental assistance, car payments and new tires.

Faith's is among 326 families the organization has helped in the last fiscal year.

In a statement to The Day, Faith thanked everyone for their generosity and prayers during her time of need.

"I've always been so independent, but the kindness from strangers, family and friends is heartwarming," she wrote. "This has been a very humbling experience. I can't wait until I'm back on my feet to pay it forward."

Kathryn Stauffer is the CEO of the Arc Eastern Connecticut, a nonprofit organization that provides services and advocacy for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities throughout the region.

Stauffer said the office spent almost a whole day wrapping gifts this week for Tim and Connie, this year's chosen recipients. The married couple with disabilities receive service through The Arc's In-Home Supports program, serving close to a total of 1,000 people.

Among their gifts are blankets, gift cards, winter coats, hair accessories and more than $500 in donations.

Stauffer said they will be especially excited about a free meal at 99, their favorite restaurant, having received a gift card.

"The Make A Difference campaign is an immense community service," Stauffer said. "Every year it grows exponentially. It'll be an amazing Christmas for Tim and Connie and those that receive any overflow gifts."

j.vazquez@theday.com

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