The Giving Season
During the holidays, West Hartford residents find ‘tis blessed to receive and to give.
Story by Theresa M. Pelham | Photography by Steve McLaughlin Photography
Even though few of us don the red suit worn by the jolly guy who visits so many homes in December, the winter months bring out the giver in many people. While some of us organize large food collections and clothing drives, others find joy in smaller-scale giving and in random acts of kindness, particularly during the holiday season.
“I’m definitely more of the random type,” says Shawn Lang, a West Hartford parent who usually donates a few turkeys to Bloomfield-based Foodshare or to Hartford-based Latinos Community Services. “I do it, in part, because I can. I can come up with $20 for a turkey, and drop it off. And I do it because it makes me happy. Whenever I do things like this–and I’ve bought random homeless people a bag of food, or something from Dunkin’ Donuts, or given them my gloves, I walk away with a smile. I heard South Africa’s Archbishop Desmond Tutu speak in Hartford many years ago. He said that everything we do matters: each donation, prayer, a moment of our time, it all matters. I think that’s true.”
In a town with as much socioeconomic diversity as West Hartford, opportunities abound for those in need and those who want to help. All you have to do is ask.
One place to ask is the Human Services Division of the Department of Human and Leisure Services, which holds a holiday party each December for low-income children whose families are either clients of the department or are referred by schools. The party, which uses no tax funds, was attended last year by more than 200 children, who enjoyed food, games, music, and a visit with Santa. At the party, recipient families pitch in to help, and all of the children’s parents receive gift cards for family gift-giving, thanks to the contributions of many residents. In the town hall lobby, holiday trees are decorated with tags containing a brief description of a child who will receive a gift card. According to town officials, the event involves a great deal of planning and is successful thanks to the many volunteers who participate.
Another opportunity to get involved is presented by the Hartford Marathon Foundation’s West Hartford Blue Back Mitten Run 5K and the Kids K, scheduled for December 2. As part of this activity, race participants and spectators are encouraged to donate new mittens, hats, and scarves to The Town That Cares Fund, a program of the West Hartford Human Services Department.
Businesses and private donors can also make a difference during the holiday season by donating gift cards to the Bridge Family Center, which provides programs for at-risk children and families. “We’re always looking for ways to help families get through this time of year,” says Executive Director Margaret Hann. “We try to make the holidays as normal as possible.”
Local places of worship express the holiday spirit by helping others across and beyond town. Reaching out internationally, Emanuel Synagogue has sent Hanukkah gift packages to Jewish service men and women deployed overseas for the past eight years, through its Social Action Committee. Sent to Iraq, Afghanistan, Kuwait, Germany, and elsewhere, the packages contain menorahs, snacks, books, and magazines, along with cards and messages written by students at the Emanuel Synagogue Religious School and at Solomon Schechter Day School.
Here in West Hartford, Westminster Presbyterian Church has supported Saint Elizabeth House in Hartford and the Connecticut Department of Children and Families for several decades with its White Gifts program, in which children wrap gifts in white paper and present them during the church’s Christmas Eve pageant. “It’s a beautiful sight to see, and it gets the children involved,” says Ma’Lynn Feingold, Chair of the Deacons. Through its Angel Tree, decorated with ornaments labeled with children’s names and ages, church members also support about 40 families, primarily in New Britain; in recent years, rather than asking for toys, children have been requesting necessities, such as winter coats for their siblings, Feingold notes. “This is the same group of people to whom we give a fully-stocked food basket at Thanksgiving,” she says.
The Universalist Church on Fern Street also has a long tradition of collecting items for less well-off individuals and families via its Mitten Tree, to which church members donate new hats, scarves, gloves, and mittens that go to Interval House in Hartford. Students in the church school lead a book drive for third-graders at Sanchez and Kennelly Schools in Hartford. The church also participates in a food drive and used-coat drive through a Glastonbury-based organization called Hawkwing, which aids Lakota Sioux families on the Cheyenne River Reservation in South Dakota.
“These are all really close partnerships,” says Sally Oxman, the church’s Director of Religious Education. “Our kids have grown up with these partnerships and have real connections with them. It’s in their blood.”
Teresa M. Pelham is a Farmington-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Seasons Magazine. She is the author of Roxy’s Forever Home, a children’s book benefiting dog rescue. For information please visit www.roxysforeverhome.com or contact Teresa at firstname.lastname@example.org.