TORRINGTON — Every fall, various agencies around Litchfield County give a team of women in Torrington lists of names of children who are in need of warm winter clothing.
Those lists are part of the annual Warm the Children program that provides families with a shopper and money to buy coats, boots, gloves, hats, or any other clothing they might need. The number of children served annually by Warm the Children depends completely on how much money is collected throughout the year. This year, close to 90 children were provided with these items, which so many can take for granted.
Now it’s time for the fundraising to begin in earnest, so those agencies can help more kids in the fall and winter of 2020. Donations are needed to make the program a success each year.
“The program depends on the generosity of the community,” said FISH Executive Director Deirdre DiCara, who oversees the program with Maura Malo and Terri Hodge. “We received 10 children’s names from each of the eight agencies we work with ... and there were some last-minute names last week, for people who were in desperate need, so we had about 90 families altogether.”
Warm the Children participants in Greater Torrington include FISH, United Way of Northwest Connecticut, Winsted Day Care, Canaan/Falls Village Day Care Center, Friendly Hands and other agencies.
“It’s so critical for people to donate all year, because the money we raise is for next year’s children,” DiCara said. “There’s never a loss of kids who need warm clothing.”
Warm the Children was founded in 1988 by former Register Citizen publisher Mack Stewart, who was inspired to start the fundraising after seeing children shivering at the bus stop as he headed to work in the morning. Many were inadequately clothed, with only sweatshirts to shield them from the snow and cold wind. Stewart thought his newspaper could do something to help. He previously worked for a newspaper in Troy, N.Y., which had a program called Clothe-A-Child, which help that city’s neediest children.
After making a few modifications to that program to fit northwest Connecticut, Warm the Children was born. Then, in 1992, Stewart was sent to Middletown to manage that’s city’s newspaper, the Middletown Press. He brought Warm the Children with him, and it was an immediate and huge success, he said. Today, the program also serves children from Connecticut’s shoreline towns as well as other groups in other states.
Warm the Children is still offered in Middletown, where referrals come from the social service agencies and schools and the program is handled by the Kiwanis Club. On the Connecticut shoreline, two groups handle Warm the Children referrals. For the towns of Westbrook, Old Saybrook, Lyme and Deep River, the program is run by the Child and Family services of Southeastern Connecticut, while the Madison Rotary Club works with families in Guilford and Madison.
Contact information for each family is given to a Warm The Children coordinator, who is someone appointed by the newspaper or service organization, who then assigns each family to a volunteer shopper. The shopper and family meet at a local store and together select appropriate winter wear for the children. No money changes hands, and the store bills the Warm The Children program for all purchases.
A unique part of the Warm the Children model is that all money raised is used to purchase clothing, and no funding is used for administrative costs. Stewart created it that way, to make sure the money was properly used.
To date, 30 Warm the Children programs are established in 12 states including Connecticut. Collectively each year, they serve more than 13,000 children with $1 million in new winter clothing and footwear.
As the Torrington Warm the Children program is overseen by DiCara at FISH, those seeking information can send an email to email@example.com; Maura Malo, firstname.lastname@example.org; or Terri Hodge, email@example.com or call United Way at 860-489-4131. Donations can be mailed to Warm the Children, PO Box 1001, Torrington, 06790-1001, with checks made payable to Warm the Children.
In Middletown, the program is overseen by the Kiwanis Club and Lynn Baldoni. For information, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Donations can be mailed to Warm the Children, 505 Main St., 3rd floor, Middletown, 06457, with checks made payable to Warm the Children.
For the Madison Rotary Club and Guilford Rotary Club Warm the Children program for Madison and Guilford, contact Ruth Desarbo at 860-664-0888 or email@example.com. Donations can be sent to 57 Nolin Road, Westbrook, 06498.
For towns in the Connecticut River Valley and shore area including: Chester, Deep River, Essex, Killingworth, Clinton, Westbrook, Old Saybrook, Lyme and Old Lyme, the program is run by the Child and Family services of Southeastern Connecticut. The contacts are Dick Campbell, firstname.lastname@example.org, 860-304-8267 or 860-388-5644l; and Beebe Miller, email@example.com, 860-767-1028.
Donation may also be made by check, payable to Warm the Children, and sent to 927 B Heritage Village, Southbury, 06488.