The Trail’s $123,152 in donations this year marks its third largest year of giving, topped only by its 2010 and 2011 campaigns in which it contributed respective sums of $125,830 and $132,043.
“After we pay our bills, we still have a lot of money left over,” said Wayne Barneschi, the Trail’s creator, who bought the former Meriden armory building on East Main Street this past summer with plans to transform it into a new home for the attraction.
Twenty-four service groups have benefited from the company’s generosity in 2013, ranging from the U.S. Navy Sea Cadet Corps, a Navy youth apprenticeship and mentorship program, which got $3,000, to the Meriden Soup Kitchen, which received $17,000.
Balsamo said the soup kitchen and Meriden-Wallingford Chrysalis Inc. were a high priority because the groups had lost sources of funding. The soup kitchen was facing a deficit of $17,000 from the loss of two of its benefactors, but the Trail restored the shortfall.
Chrysalis, which aids women and children who are victims of domestic abuse, also lost a sponsor in 2013. “This was a year of losing sponsors,” said Balsamo.
“What we’re finding out this year is that a lot of non-profits are losing funding because of the economy,” Barneschi explained.
Certain groups are perennial recipients, such as Meriden’s Beat the Street youth program and the Wallingford Emergency Shelter.
Thom Thurber, the shelter’s executive director, said the Trail had donated over $220,000 to the center in the past five years, which largely helped build the shelter’s family center, a transitional housing unit for homeless families with children. Trail of Terror contributions funded 90 percent of the $260,000 project, he said.
Barneschi and a small group of Trail volunteers have begun delivering donation checks to beneficiary groups, timed to coincide with the holidays.
“What a great Christmas gift,” Balsamo said. “What a great time of year to be handing out the money.”
Balsamo said the Trail’s charitable efforts are also a gift to its high school and college-aged volunteer staff. “They are so passionate when they see the money and where it went,” she said. “That’s their reward.”
Peter Chester, Balsamo’s advisory committee colleague, said the committee recommends donations based on the need level of the recipient.
Balsamo said the committee screens groups rigorously before giving them any money. The selection process begins when groups contact Barneschi and submit a written request and explanation of their needs, she said.
Barneschi said he trusts the judgment of committee members such as Balsamo and Chester, who are plugged in to informal local philanthropic networks, in determining donation recipients and the amount each receives. “They know from years and years of experience who does good work,” he said.
Balsamo and Chester are both former members of the Wallingford branch of the American Red Cross, which was a recipient of Trail donations before the organization closed its local branch. At that point, both became advisory committee members and volunteers, particularly dedicating themselves to the company’s charitable endeavors.
“We just feel so strongly about the benefit to the community at large,” Chester said.
Both members praised not only Barneschi, but his entire family, for their generosity to local organizations that serve the needy. “It’s a privilege to work for them for the benefit of the community,” Chester said.
Barneschi says he is still exploring other groups upon which to bestow his charitable fruits, such as animal rescue organizations and a Veterans Administration hospital fund that pays veterans’ legal fees.
“This is what we do,” he said of the Trail’s commitment to giving. “There are a lot of great non-profits out there that are underfunded, and we try to help as many people as we can.”