SOUTHINGTON — Southington Community Services is on track to meet its seasonal donation goals in spite of having a leaner year.
With less food being available to them than in previous years, officials have still been able to provide for residents in need even with an increased number of residents using their services. It’s an operation that’s been made possible by the collective efforts of the community, Community Services Director Janet Mellon said.
The holiday bell-ringing season in collaboration with the Salvation Army is a critical fund-raising period for Community Services, bringing in nearly half the revenue they’re able to contribute to the pantry for the entire year.
The Salvation Army had four locations set up in town to collect donations this year: Price Chopper, Walmart, Shop & Shop, and Tops Marketplace in Plantsville.
“I would say they're on target. I think that's a good word for it because we haven't had any snowstorms that have affected our time of ringing the bell on a weekend. That's when we make the most money, it's on Saturdays. And if we have a snowstorm, that could be a significant $2,000 that we wouldn't get. So this year has been pretty good,” Red Kettles Campaign Coordinator and Community Services Volunteer Robin Taillie said.
Having an above-average year is a good prospect, officials and volunteers say, as supply chain issues and rising costs have meant being able to stock their pantry with less food. And with the rising cost of utilities into the next year, it’s expected more residents will use the community services.
“It's been a lot busier this year and a lot less food donations this year in general. But I think the prices of food and the availability of food has been tough,” Mellon said, “We've done more energy applications as of today than we did all last year, and it doesn't end until May 1st. So it's just been the worst economy I've ever seen, as far as people coming in. It’s the busiest it's ever been, in the whole time I've been here.”
Outside of individual donations, one of the pantry’s biggest sources – Foodshare – only has limited options to serve them this year. It’s by the efforts of the volunteers that they’ve been able to go out and keep the shelves stocked during their busiest hours.
“We have no canned fruit. We have almost no canned soup. Before, after, and during the holidays we'd be tripping over the food every other year. But this is how the economy has changed,” said Mellon.
According to organizers, it’s the volunteers and collaboration with businesses that keep their operations running and being able to provide for the community. With a total of 107 volunteers, they’ve been able to go out and secure food, make deliveries and coordinate their operations at the Southington armory in the month of December.
Beyond just providing food, community services has also been able to host several holiday events for children in collaboration with the Calendar House and the Southington Rotary Club. The former held a shopping party that allowed children to buy gifts while the Rotary Club hosted an ornament-making event for kids and provided dinner for the families.
Local businesses like MedSpa have made significant donations while Precision Realty has been delivering gifts to families who haven’t been able to be at community services in person. To organizers, it’s that community cooperation that allows them to keep their doors open even during leaner seasons.
“I usually don't have that much trouble getting people to be volunteers. Significantly, the groups come back year after year after year — they want to do it because it makes them feel good,” Taillie said. “Everybody likes to be a part of it. It's like being on a winning team. You want to be on the winning team. So that's how I feel. They want to be part of it.”
That was a similar sentiment echoed by Mellon.
“We have the best employees you could ever want, the best hundred seven volunteers … Nobody takes care of their own as the Southington community. And if it wasn't for the businesses and the people in Southington making this happen — you can almost do a Hallmark movie about Southington. That's how I feel about it,” she said.
For those who aren’t able to make contributions in person, community services also accepts donations online on the Southington town website, https://www.southington.org/departments/community_services/index.php