Years ago — when her daughter was in middle school — Allyson Maida heard about a girl who spotted a classmate wearing a sweater the first girl owned.
Her mother had donated it to a charity, which then gave it to needy families.
When she learned that the needy girl lived in Westport, the mother told her daughter not to hang out with her. The girl told classmates too that they shouldn’t be friends with a poor girl.
That story was a defining moment in Maida’s life.
Another one came when Maida — a longtime Westport psychotherapist — heard of a mother here who faced an agonizing decision: If she invited a few of her daughter’s friends over for a small birthday celebration, the family would have to skimp on food all week.
“Stories like that rocked my world,” Maida says.
When she became president of the local chapter of Business Networking International, she asked the organization to help.
“There are homeless kids in Westport,” she told the members. “They deserve your best.”
“People were astounded,” she says, recalling the reaction. “The perception is that there’s little to no need. But there are parents here work really hard to make ends meet. They just can’t.”
Maida knew that federal, state and town programs help. She was familiar with foundations, grants, and organizations like Homes With Hope. All do great work.
But they can’t cover everything. Maida’s goal was to provide discretionary funds for things no one else did. Like a cake for a birthday party. A fidget toy. Lessons or tutors, the same as wealthy kids get.
“All we want is for every kid to feel part of the community. They should enjoy childhood,” Maida says. “And hopefully we can lessen their parents’ stress too.”
Tomorrow (Saturday, July 15, 2 p.m.), BNI hosts a “Chill Out, Grill Out and Give” event at Greens Farms Elementary School. Everyone brings their own balls, frisbees, food and drinks (grills are provided). The $10 per person entry fee will help fund Maida’s project, aiding children served through Homes With Hope.
Response from organizations like the Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce, Rotary Clubs and Westport Woman’s Club has been excellent.
“This is about more than asking for money,” Maida says. “We want people to show up. We need to raise awareness.”
But Maida has asked for money too. She went door to door, seeking funds from local businesses.
The reaction stunned her.
The first place — Earth Animal — opened the cash register, and gave her $20.
So did UPS next door.
Party Harty and Colonial Druggists did the same, without batting an eye.
Then she tried Fresh Market. That’s a national store — not a mom-and-pop, or locally owned franchise.
The manager heard her pitch. He handed her a water. Then he gave her $20 too.
“That’s Westport,” Maida says gratefully.
So — unfortunately — is real need. Most of us never see it.
Allyson Maida does. And she’s doing what she can to help.
(Tickets are available on site for tomorrow’s event. Children under 12 are free. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org. The organizing committee includes Ernie Addario of Phillip Bruce Salon; Bill Hall of Kaiser-Battistone/Wind River Environmental; David Katz of Acsia Partners; Brian Gmelin of Paychex; Mark Moeller of The Recipe of Success, and John Clapps of Brand24.)