If you’re like me, you’re excited by the holiday season — and annoyed at the rampant commercialism that accompanies it.
But if you’re like dozens of Westport households here, you wonder how you can afford any gifts at all.
Overlooked in all the ho-ho-ho-ing are local families for whom the holidays may not seem merry or bright. Job loss, medical expenses, foreclosure, divorce — those circumstances and others may add extra stress to this time of year.
Fortunately, riding shotgun with Santa is Westport’s Department of Human Services.
It’s a great, confidential way for Westporters to provide gifts for kids — and ease the financial burden on entire families. Last year, 432 residents — including those served by Homes With Hope, the Westport Housing Authority, Project Return and the schools’ Open Choice program — received holiday assistance.
One recipient — whose life changed drastically 4 years ago — cried after picking up gift cards.
A mom of limited means thanked DHS for easing the stress she felt on Christmas morning.
A longtime Westporter — who can afford to live here only because her apartment is owned by her family — says that without the program, her son would have only one present under the tree.
Another says simply, “the Holiday Gift Giving Program has made all the difference.”
Contributions come from individuals, as well as garden and book clubs, scout troops, schools, churches and businesses. Donors and receivers are assured of confidentiality.
For years, Audrey Hertzel has organized a huge effort at Sterling Investment Partners. She collects stuffed animals and books for the Holiday Giving Program.
“Some of the most appreciated gifts are grocery and gas cards of any amount,” says Human Services director Barbara Butler. Also well received: gift cards to local stores.
Cash donations are always welcome. They allow Human Services staffers to buy last-minute gift cards for clients.
Cards and checks (made payable to “DHS Family Programs,” with “Holiday” on the memo line) can be mailed to Human Services, 110 Myrtle Ave., Westport, CT 06880 at any time (the sooner the better, of course). They can also be dropped off in Town Hall Room 200 during business hours.
If you’d like to shop for a family’s actual gift request — in full or part — or for questions, contact Patty Haberstroh (firstname.lastname@example.org; 203-341-1069).
Families needing extra support during the holidays should call 203-341-1050.