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The holiday spirit is flowing in the New Fairfield and Sherman social services departments. Though in the past there would have been wrapped presents to share–a practice on hold due to the pandemic–there are now heaps of gift cards that await delivery to area families.

“Honestly, what I have found is so uplifting…people are so incredibly generous and they really want to help each other,” said Cindy White, New Fairfield’s Director of Social Services. She described a host of groups and individual families who are happy to donate and help collect gift cards and monetary donations for an increasing number of families in need in town. All of the donations and gifts are going through the mail this year, White explained, with items that range from gas and grocery gift cards to local restaurant and regional department store gift certificates.

In Sherman, Social Services Director, Lynne Gomez, says that her Social Services Assistant Lisa Rey, “has been busy with so many wonderful, generous Sherman Santas.” The list of groups who collect and give is long, including Matthew 25, Sherman Cares, and so many individual Sherman residents. Likewise, White’s Assistant Kathie Rocco has “been working so hard to get information out to people about programs and services,” especially at the holidays.

Gomez said that it feels good to help families in Sherman, “The program has been run many years out of this office. The Holiday Gift Drive is anonymous and confidential–the gift givers never know the gift recipients and vice versa. But everyone wins as the joy of sharing in the Christmas spirit is at work. Many Sherman families are struggling this year and we hope to reach out to anyone in need of a little holiday cheer.  For some it might be the only gift under the tree.”

Since March, the Congregational Church of New Fairfield has worked closely with New Fairfield Social Services to offer a contactless Food Pantry. Pastor Liz Yoho says “The feeling of hope is so important to each and every one of us, especially in this time of COVID19 when it is so easy to be overwhelmed with anxiety and fear. Knowing that our community has, and will continue, to step up and reach out to help our neighbors is reassuring. We are a stronger community when we can look beyond our own human-created divisions and support one another without judgement.”

Given that “So many people have had their income reduced or in the worst case eliminated,” Yoho said, donations are critical. “We were so grateful for the outpouring of donations leading up to Thanksgiving and so we have a decent supply of many items we regularly use. We have decided to promote a monthly need list to help people decide what to donate,” she explained. For December, the list includes: canned vegetables, rice mixes, potato mixes, pasta sauce, cake mix, frosting, bread, muffin and cookie mix, oatmeal, cereal, juice, canned or cup fruit, canned tuna or chicken, apple sauce, pudding, hot chocolate, laundry detergent, and Parmalat milk. White added that, given the holidays, they would “happily accept any nice-to-have extras” that families would not typically splurge on. Drop offs are welcome on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday from 9 to 11.

Both departments would welcome the holiday spirit extending throughout the year, in terms of giving. In New Fairfield, White says that especially in spring and summer the food pantry is typically in desperate need. Whereas in Sherman, donations are so important. They don’t have a food pantry in town, but the donations for seasonal outreaches are vital. People who want to donate money to any of the town’s charitable groups can drop off a check or give electronically. Gift cards to local grocery stores and gas stations are always welcome at any time of year.

Gomez said that anyone who is interested in participating as a gift giver or a joyful recipient is welcome to call the Sherman Social Services at 860-354-2414, ext 2. White can be reached by phone at 203-312-5669 or by email at cwhite@newfairfield.org.

By Sarah Opdahl