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Holiday Program Depot Day Will Have A Very Different Look This Year



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The Newtown Fund’s largest annual project — its Holiday Basket Program, culminating in Depot Day — will have a very different look this year.

There will undoubtedly still be residents who will need help with holiday gifts and food this holiday season. There will certainly be fellow residents and businesses looking to “adopt” those residents and provide requested items.

Unlike previous years, however, there will be no Depot Day, when all items are delivered to a central collection point, then sorted, wrapped, and delivered across town. With COVID-19 still very much in the air, organizers say Depot Day cannot happen.

Linda Bates, longtime president of The Newtown Fund (TNF), reached out to The Newtown Bee last week to start sharing the news of this year’s plans.

For 61 years, TNF has offered a one-time payment for residents to help pay for food, fuel assistance, utility bills, rent, or medical expenses. It is an emergency payment for residents.

The Holiday Basket Program is the fund’s way of making sure the holidays are a little brighter for as many as 200 residents in need. TNF works with Newtown Social Services, which takes applications from residents who might not otherwise see gifts for the December holiday they celebrate.

The applicants are then screened by the Town of Newtown department to make sure they meet eligibility requirements.

By late November, TNF knows how many individuals, couples, and families need to be “adopted” for that year’s Holiday Basket Program.

The names of those seeking adoption are known only to Social Services; each recipient is identified to TNF only by a number, with only their gender and general age also shared. The anonymous family’s holiday wish list is also provided to the fund, which then distributes it to those who want to adopt a family, couple, or individual.

Businesses, organizations, families, churches, and individuals then “adopt” someone on that list, promising to fill the wish list in time for Depot Day.

In addition to gifts, adopters commit to providing supplies for a complete holiday meal, pantry supplies, and toiletry items for the entire family being adopted.

In 2019, 62 families were aided through The Newtown Fund’s Holiday Basket Program. In 2018 it was 68 families that were helped, representing 100 adults and 60 children.

“Social Services expects the number of families to increase” this year, Bates said October 14, “due to business closings and layoffs.”

Natalie Jackson, the Town of Newtown’s human resources administrator — whose work includes directing Social Services — confirmed an expected uptick this year. The pandemic has already increased the number of local residents asking for help, she said this week. The department is receiving calls for the holiday basket program at a rate higher than in years past, she added, noting that Social Services had already received about 20 applications for the holiday basket program as of the beginning of this week.

“We just had a team meeting this morning,” she said October 20, “and we have received calls from people who are brand new to us.

“I think in years past, historically it was a pretty consistent group of residents for holiday baskets,” she added. “I don’t think there was a high number of new people last year, and already we’ve seen some new names of people who haven’t reached out to us for support.

“I think people are being more proactive this year than last,” she said.

Depot Day, Traditionally

In years past, Depot Day begins the previous evening. Friday is Call Night, when volunteers contact everyone who has volunteered to adopt a family or otherwise participate in Depot Day.

TNF board member Sharon Cohen told The Newtown Bee last year that Call Night is filled with calls to remind or educate everyone on how Saturday will operate.

“We remind people that they are signed up to be a driver or where they should go to drop off their items and the general time that they should arrive,” she said in November 2019. “Someone also contacts all of the volunteers who will be working inside the school. It’s a good night to offer everyone a general overview of the event.”

On Depot Day, gifts and nonperishable items — collectively, hundreds of them — are delivered to and organized at a central location before being disbursed to dozens of Newtown homes. The Fraser Woods School has hosted Depot Day for nearly a decade.

In addition to the requested gifts and nonperishable items, Depot Day traditionally sees donations of general gifts including toys, games, puzzles, and more.

Those items are also divided among the registered families, adding to the pool of gifts families will receive that afternoon.

According to TNF treasurer and longtime volunteer Sharon Maynard, financial donations earmarked for Depot Day are turned into gift cards and certificates for local grocery stores and gas stations. The gift cards are distributed in addition to what donors provide to their families, she told The Newtown Bee last year.

By Saturday afternoon, carloads filled with the donations are delivered to the homes of recipients. One adult generally drives each vehicle to a home, continuing the efforts of TNF and Social Services to maintain anonymity for the recipients.

In 2018, approximately 150 volunteers participated in Depot Day. Volunteers are all ages, from all walks of life, according to TNF Vice President Anne Ragusa.

Depot Day 2020

According to Bates, who has been meeting in recent weeks with the fund’s board, there does not appear to be a safe way to have that many volunteers working together. Deport Day often runs from early morning until early afternoon, with all those volunteers working in close proximity.

“There will be no wrapping table,” she said, adding “we cannot accept any additional gifts or food. We will have no way to get them to the families.”

Those who adopt a family this year, she said, “will be delivering the gifts and gift cards to the family they have adopted to maintain social distancing and keep personal contact to a minimum and still provide a holiday for the families who qualify for assistance.”

Delivery day this year will still be two Saturdays before Christmas. Adopters are asked to deliver their gifts and food on Saturday, December 12, between 9 am and noon.

Social Services is collecting applications now for the 2020 Holiday Basket Program. Residents who qualify, or think they may qualify for the program, should visit the department’s office, at 28 Trades Lane. The department can also be contacted by calling 203-270-4330.

“People just have to go there and fill [an application] out ASAP,” Bates said.

To adopt a family, visit thenewtownfund.org and follow the Adopt A Family link.

Those seeking to participate in the Holiday Basket Program can select the size of the family they want to adopt.

For additional information, contact TNF Holiday Basket program coordinator Alison Kistner at 203-522-6590 or newtownfund@gmail.com. While Depot Day will not be happening this year, the fund does have other volunteer opportunities available in upcoming months. Visit thenewtownfund.org to learn more.

The Newtown Fund is seeking financial donations to help offset the costs of this year’s requests. The fund is a 501(c)(3) registered charity, which makes all donations tax deductible.

Groups of volunteers, like those shown here during Depot Day 2019, cannot safely work together right now due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Because of that, The Newtown Fund is reconfiguring how its Holiday Basket Program will work this year. —Bee file photo
The cavernous gymnasium at Fraser Woods Montessori School is usually broken into areas designated for the holiday gifts and household supplies for each person, couple, or family who will receive items through The Newtown Fund’s Depot Day. The scene above will not be happening this year, however, due to COVID-19. —photo courtesy The Newtown Fund
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