Number of residents in need increasing

Gail Schiron, the town’s director of human services, checks out the food in the town’s food pantry at the Redding Community Center. With so many families needing help, the pantry needs to be replenished frequently. —Susan Wolf photo

The Redding community is not immune to people who have fallen on hard times.

Gail Schiron, the town’s director of human services, has seen an increase in the number of people coming to her office at the Redding Community Center to seek assistance. Just in the last week, she said, seven residents who had never before been to her office have come in looking for assistance.

“The needs are far greater than two years ago,” Ms. Schiron said.

There are a lot of single moms who are “really facing difficult situations,” she said, adding there are a lot of fathers who are not paying child support. The result is these women’s incomes look too high for them to get help, but they are not getting the owed child support, Ms. Schiron said. “Some moms can’t afford to go back to court and they aren’t going to see that money.”

The ages of those seeking help vary, from 47 to the elderly. Ms. Schiron’s caseload is up to 47 families. “If you look at the town’s population, that’s a pretty high percent,” she said.

“Unfortunately, the loss of jobs is the biggest reason” people come in to see what services are available, Ms. Schiron said, adding some are near the foreclosure process. She blamed the economy.

Her biggest fear, she said, is where the cuts will come in social services for the state. “I’m very worried about [the governor’s proposed] state cuts, as are other social services directors in the other towns, Ms. Schiron said. “All have experienced the same demands for assistance.”

Much of her job is to refer people to the state Department of Social Services office in Danbury. Ms. Schiron can process some applications if people are unable to get to the Danbury office. State help is based on income guidelines, she said.

“We can assist with state health insurance [Husky] for adults and children,” Ms. Schiron said. There is also some cash assistance as well as food stamps from the state.

Her office is also the site for applications for state and federal energy assistance programs. These, too, are based on income guidelines.

“Locally, we offer a food pantry and can assist through the Redding Shares the Warmth fund, which comes solely from town donations to social services,” said Ms. Schiron. Donations are tax-deductible. The fund is used to provide fuel assistance for residents in need or to pay a portion of a payment for a utility bill, but for the whole year, the money doesn’t go very far, Ms. Schiron said.

There is also some money in the town budget for fuel assistance and portion payments for a utility bill. Connecticut Light & Power has a fuel assistance program with income guidelines, but people must apply directly to CL&P for help.

For some people, Ms. Schiron said, the increase in the cost of fuel has been a problem, especially with the cost of food and other expenses increasing.

“It make the amount on a gift card not go as far,” she said.

“We are fortunate to have a community like we have,” said Ms. Schiron. She pointed to donations to the food pantry and gift card donations for food, clothing and other needs. “The generosity of the community is outstanding,” she said.

While food is always coming into the food pantry, it goes out quickly, Ms. Schiron said. She is grateful for the help she gets from the Dove Project, an endeavor of Christ Church Parish and the First Church of Christ, Congregational. Participants take a white dove cutout from a tree with a gift wish on the back. Parishioners then fulfill the wish and bring the gifts to her for families in need.

Instead of sending out food baskets for the holidays, her department now provides food gift cards with supplements from the food pantry, said Ms. Schiron. Part of the reason for the shift is food allergies, she explained.

Redding Elementary School has a giving tree for residents in need, and both St. Patrick Church and Bethlehem Lutheran Church contribute gift cards and other items.

“I feel my goal is to help make people become independent again, and not dependent on assisted services,” Ms. Schiron said. “Eventually the well goes dry and I can do no more.”

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