Thursday November 15, 2012

DAWSON RASPUZZI

Staff Writer

BENNINGTON -- Families who need help buying warm winter clothing for their children have until Friday to apply for assistance through the annual Warm the Children campaign.

Each winter hundreds of families receive $100 JC Penney shopping sprees to buy jackets, snowpants, boots, gloves and other warm clothing for children ages 4 to 14 through to the charity sponsored by Hanson-Walbridge Funeral Home, the American Red Cross and the Banner.

Awareness and need growing

Warm the Children is in its 12th year, and organizer Lisa Shea said the awareness and need of the program continues to grow.

"The economy has not gotten any better ... most of these moms are single moms with two, three, or four kids that are having trouble making ends meet," Shea said.

Thanks to some last minute donations last December, Warm the Children raised enough money to help about 350 of the more than 400 children who applied, which was considerably higher than the 200 to 240 who are usually helped.

Shea said she expects the need this year will also be significant.

About 165 applications had been dropped off as of Wednesday, but money for just 50 shopping trips had been collected, according to Bennington Banner Controller Cathy Vosburgh.

While donations are collected year-round, Shea said they generally do not start coming in until temperatures drop below freezing.

"Money doesn't really seem to come in until it gets cold out," she said.

A committee will review all of the applications next week. Based on family income and special circumstances identified on the application, the committee will prioritize who will be helped first. The number of children who are helped is dependent on how much money is raised.

Once children are selected, volunteers will contact the families beginning in the last week of November. Shopping trips will begin at that time and continue until Dec. 14.

Shea said volunteer shoppers are also being sought to accompany families at JC Penney in Bennington. Volunteers receive a packet in the mail with the name of the child and family they will be shopping with as well as the time to meet the family at JC Penney.

There are some "wonderful saints" who Shea said volunteer every year and sometimes do as many as 20 shopping trips, but more volunteers are always being sought. In addition to helping others, the volunteers receive a feeling of satisfaction for their efforts.

"They leave feeling good. It's instant gratification," Shea said.

Applications can be picked up and dropped off at the Banner offices on Main Street until 4:40 p.m. Nov. 16. Shea said it is important families put a reliable phone number on the applications. In years past some applications have included phone numbers that are disconnected when it comes time to contact the families and they unfortunately miss out.

Donations can be dropped off at the Banner throughout the year. Every dollar that is donated is used to buy winter clothing.

Anyone interested in volunteering should contact Shea during the day at 802-442-4329 or in the evening at 802-442-8180.