Holiday donations 'make a difference' for local families in need

Days after losing her mother to cancer, Lexis Foster decided to donate her mother's household items to a woman who is a client of the Homeless Hospitality Center in New London and who had just secured her own apartment.

Cathy Zall, executive director of the Homeless Hospitality Center, said the story was "incredibly poignant" because of the Foster family's generosity after such a tragedy.

Foster, a junior at Eastern Connecticut State University, had encountered the story in a "Make a Difference" article Dec. 9, which was part of an annual series by The Day that runs from Thanksgiving to Christmas. The Day contacts local service organizations such as the Salvation Army, Covenant Shelter and several town human service departments, and the organizations each select a family or individual in particular need because of a special situation.

About 30 organizations were featured in the series and saw an outpouring of support.

  • The Jewish Federation of Eastern Connecticut received almost $350 and was able to purchase gift cards for 10 families.
  • The Arc New London County received more than $650 in store gift cards and $350 in household items for a 35-year-old woman with diabetes who was abandoned by her family.
  • Safe Futures received several gift cards, a printer, a desk and other office supplies to help a single mother apply to college and look for work.
  • St. Vincent de Paul Place received almost $800 in gift cards and cash donations to support a woman battling breast cancer, and assist with her cats.

Kathleen Stauffer, chief executive officer of The Arc New London County, said this year the organization received about twice as much in donations as in the past. She said these ranged from practical items such as clothing and towels to stuffed animals and dolls, which people in need often do not expect to receive.

"People have just been so generous," she said.

Safe Futures is working on procuring a laptop for their selected client this year, who wanted to set up a home office to help her apply for college and jobs while she supports her young daughter.

"She was so excited even just picking up the Walmart gift cards before Christmas," said Emma Palzere-Rae, director of development & communications. "She was thrilled."

The client selected by St. Vincent de Paul Place tugged at the heartstrings of cat owners in the area and received a cat tree and bags of litter and food in addition to two heaters for her apartment and almost $800 in gift cards and cash. Executive director Jillian Corbin said the client wrote a thank-you note to the organization signed with a few meows from the cats, translated as "Yum yum, thanks to all."

Ron Foster of Groton said his family was working on cleaning out his daughter Vicki's apartment in Norwich when his granddaughter Lexis found the article.

"Lexis said that Mom would like it if we gave her stuff to this lady," he said, adding that Vicki was a very giving person herself and had been a regular volunteer at local soup kitchens and animal shelters.

The Fosters were unable to meet the woman in the article because she was out when they dropped off the items, which included a microwave, silverware, glasses, dishware and a variety of cleaning supplies.

However, the representative at the center who helped the woman get her apartment was there to unload the items and take pictures of the family. They also included a copy of Vicki's obituary so the woman would know who the items were coming from.

Zall said the Homeless Hospitality Center currently gets household items to families in need through the Homeward Bound Treasures thrift store on Golden Street. However, this year's story inspired her to consider other ways to connect families and transfer items between people who no longer need them and their clients who do need them, such as a furniture bank.

Many organizations, including the Homeless Hospitality Center, also are able to provide other clients in need with donations after the first family's needs are met.

a.hutchinson@theday.com

Twitter: @ahutch411

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