Warm hands, warm hearts: Warm the Children helps families get ready for the cold

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BENNINGTON — Four more children from the community are now ready to face the cold in the coming winter months with help from the Warm The Children program. 

On Saturday morning, the Wright family joined volunteers Jean Hogg and Grace Wilson at the J.C. Penney store here to stock up on winter clothing. Of the Wrights' five children, four were old enough to participate.

Five-year-olds Athena and Selena Wright and their two older sisters, seven-year-old Peyton and eight-year-old Ileana, got to pick out new winter coats, boots, pajamas and socks for the winter. With smiles on their faces, each child hit the aisles, eager and excited for their new gear.

The girls' mother, Antoinett Wright, and father, James Woffenden, helped them pick out clothing and make decisions on each piece, while Hogg and Wilson helped guide the family and made sure each child had enough for each piece of clothing.

"Doing the program felt good," Antoinett Wright said. "I like the fact that Warm The Children helps people get what they need that may have not been able to. I do think the age range for the program could go younger," she added, "because there's family's with younger kids that need it and some with older kids too."

Woffenden expressed gratitude for the program as well. Antoinett said that she had tried getting other people that she knows to put in an application for the program, but that some feel too uncomfortable to do so.

Wright and her family are returners to the program, as they participated in 2016. This year, the family has fallen on hard times due to a change in family dynamics.

Wright and Woffenden split up, but are working together to help support and care for their children. The couple had been together for about nine years.

"The kids know and they've noticed and asked about where he is and when he's coming home," Wright said. "I've been trying hard to smile, but it's hard."

Warm The Children is organized by Shea Family Funeral Homes, the Bennington County Coalition for the Homeless, and The Bennington Banner. The program relies on donations, and has a partnership with J.C. Penney, which offers a 25 percent discount to qualified shoppers.

Since 1994, the local branch of Warm The Children has been providing warm winter clothing to children in need. The program is open to children between the ages of 4 and 14. Families that need assistance send in an application for the program and their applications are approved on a need basis.

Warm The Children works with local newspapers, local charities, schools, social agencies; volunteers and with participating retailers. Other states across the Northeast have participating newspapers and organizations, as well.

After families have their applications approved, they are assigned volunteers who arrange a time to go shopping at J.C. Penney. Children and their families get to go shopping for new coats, boots, snow pants, and socks.

According to Lisa Shea, organizer of Warm The Children, applications go through a screening process to ensure that families that need the most support get help.

Over 376 applications were submitted. About 109 were turned in by families who had never participated in the program before, and a number of incomplete applications had to be turned down.

So far, about 228 families have been approved for Warm The Children, while 82 are waiting on an answer. More families will be approved if enough funds become available. Any money left over from previous years gets rolled over into the next year, held in a special savings account used just for the program.

Warm The Children also relies on volunteers. Both Hogg and Wilson, who accompanied the Wright family, are returning volunteers. Hogg has volunteered with Warm The Children for the past eight years, while Wilson has been involved for the past three years.

"While we worry about our own kids being cold, we also worry about other children," Wilson said. Both she and Hogg are grandmothers.

"I love the program, it's such a good program," Hogg said. "My community helps put clothes on a child's back. Some kids never get to go shopping and it's a very good experience for them."

She said that the staff at J.C. Penney help make the families feel comfortable and welcomed. Hogg enjoys seeing what each child picks out and how fast a child can change their mind — sometimes what they originally have their eye set on isn't necessarily what they come out of the store carrying in their bags.

Donations for Warm The Children are still being accepted for this year's program, and can be submitted at the Banner office at 425 Main Street in Bennington. All checks payable should be made to Warm The Children. Donations can be submitted year-round.

To learn more about Warm The Children visit warmthechildren.org or call organizer Lisa Shea at Hanson-Wallbridge at 802-442-4329


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