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Westport Program Spreads Cheer To Those In Need

These are some of the new toys donated by Coleytown Elementary School students to the Westport Human Services Department's holiday giving program.
These are some of the new toys donated by Coleytown Elementary School students to the Westport Human Services Department's holiday giving program. Photo Credit: Vanessa Inzitari

WESTPORT, Conn. – Holiday shopping can be stressful, especially for low-income families. That’s why the Westport Human Services Department sponsors the Holiday Giving program each year.

Through the program, generous donors in the community help fulfill holiday wish lists for a child or family in need.

“This is not a toy drive,” lead program organizer Patty Haberstroh said Monday afternoon. “This program is really about getting specific items requested by a family.” Last year, about 450 people benefited from the program, Haberstroh said. With many families in town still recovering from Hurricane Sandy, she expects at least that many or more will require assistance this year.

Here’s how the program works: Every October, income-eligible Westport families fill out wish lists. As the program covers entire families, there’s a form for adults, pre-teens/teens, elementary-age children and infants/toddlers, Haberstroh said.

Using the forms, each member of a family requests up to $100 worth of items, including toys, gift cards to their favorite stores, household items, clothing and more. Once the lists are sent back, they are given to donors. Before wish lists are distributed, however, Haberstroh said names and addressed are removed.

“Everything is anonymous,” she said. “Both family and donor names are kept confidential.”

Donors can fulfill a wish list for a child or an entire family, Haberstroh said. For example, if a donor says they can spend up to $300, she will set that donor up with a family of three.

Residents who can’t afford to purchase at least $100 worth of items but would still like to help are welcome to donate gift cards to local stores or cash, Haberstroh said.

“Whatever money we receive we use to buy gift cards for our clients,” she said. “Gift cards allow our clients to personally shop for their families.”

The program also receives donations of new toys collected by Coleytown Elementary School students. When parents pick up their family’s items at Toquet Hall, they often browse through the donated toys and pick out a few to bring home, Haberstroh said.

Anyone interested in being a donor can contact Patty Haberstroh at 203-341-1069 or at hsyouth@westportct.gov .

Any family that feels they need assistance this holiday season—including families whose homes were damaged by Hurricane Sandy—are urged to contact Haberstroh as well.

Gift card and cash donations can be dropped off or mailed to the Human Services Department, Room 200, Town Hall, 110 Myrtle Ave., Westport, CT 06880. Checks should be made payable to “DHS Family Programs” with “Holiday” on the memo line.

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