As Thanksgiving fades, thoughts turn to Christmas, carol-singing, gift-giving, and general merriment. But for many it is a season of sadness and despair. Homelessness and hunger are prevalent in so many of our local towns. But Torrington, CT, has two organizations that are helping to bring cheer to those who need it most.
Prime Time House
Prime Time House, which recently celebrated its 30th anniversary, is a branch of Clubhouse International, a community-based membership organization designed to support people living with mental illness, offering opportunities and services so that individuals can rejoin the worlds of friendship, family, employment, and education.
“People who become part of Prime Time are known as members,” explains Christina Emery, executive director of the group. “We help them with a variety of things, from gaining confidence to life and work skills. A potential member can come in and have the program explained by a counselor. Once accepted a member is part of the family, working in the kitchen, serving lunch, answering phones. They basically run the clubhouse along with our staff.”
A food pantry is open to members twice a week and there is a daily lunch program as well as a weekly wellness dinner. Here members help cook the meals and learn about nutrition and meal planning. Additionally, the camaraderie is an opportunity to hone their social skills.
“We have about 35 members who come to the clubhouse daily,” says Emery. “They can stay as long as they choose and for those who have no family this is their only support system.”
Prime Time also has a career services-supported employment program that works with 100 individuals at a time to find suitable jobs and then a case manager is on hand to find suitable housing.
Funding is crucial
Like so many organizations funding is crucial and challenging. Prime Time has two contracts with the state of Connecticut that fund the clubhouse and a small contract for supportive housing. The rest comes from donors and from their annual Prime Finds pop-up shop. This year “Prime Finds Home for the Holidays” will open at the site of the former Murphy’s Pharmacy on the green in Litchfield.
“We are so grateful to Mark Murphy and his sister Marla Golden for donating their space to our annual event,” Emery says, “and to the United Methodist Church for providing storage space.”
This year’s event opened on Friday, November 15 with a “Sip and Shop” from 4:00 to 7:00pm, and will run through December 29. Attendees were treated to a grand assortment of home furnishings and art objects generously donated by local residents. In addition to Murphy’s Pharmacy, sponsors include Thomaston Savings Bank, United Methodist Church of Litchfield and Bantam, Torrington Savings Bank, Northwest Community Bank, Litchfield Bancorp, AL-TEK Electronics, Inc., William Pitt Sotheby’s International Realty, Brooks, Todd & McNeil, Northwest Hills Credit Union, Turning Point Realty, Clifford A. Cooper Architecture, Marrin Santore Realty, Doyle’s Medical Supply, LLC, Eastside Electric, Inc., and Thurston Rowe Funeral Home.
Food banks have become a way of life for many and it is important to recognize that these places need our help. FISH (Friends in Service to Humanity) has held a presence in Torrington since 1972 when it was started by Carol Angevine. Originally its purpose was to supply transportation for those in need.
Since then FISH has evolved into the largest emergency homeless shelter in the northwest corner, offering 35 beds, five of which are designated for veterans. It provides families and individuals a safe and secure haven as they await supportive housing. It also serves as a food pantry for many residents in outlying communities. Last year FISH distributed enough food to provide over 115,000 meals for over 500 families.
Deirdre Houlihan DiCara has been director of FISH for the past six years and has devoted countless hours and days to advance the organization’s outreach and spread the word of what is available to those who need assistance.
“Our goal is to end homelessness and hunger by giving those in need the tools, resources, and confidence needed to gain back their independence,” explains DiCara. “It takes courage for someone to ask for help and we try to make it easier and to fulfill some of their needs.”
With one of the grants DiCara received she purchased a 10×14 ft walk-in freezer. “We are now able to offer frozen turkeys at Thanksgiving along with fresh vegetables. We get tremendous support from local food purveyors. Stop & Shop and the Big Y are amazingly generous and every Friday we go to Arethusa Farm Dairy to pick up milk and cheese.”
However, it becomes increasingly challenging to keep up with food demand. DiCara has been meeting with food providers as well as the Connecticut Food Bank to come up with the best delivery system. She envisions a food hub that would allow pickups to be quicker and more efficient.
Christmas is another occasion when FISH makes sure that people have some way of celebrating. The program is limited to families with children who qualify under the income guidelines. It provides a Christmas dinner for the family as well as gifts for the children, including those of high school age.
“We also do a fundraiser at Five Points Gallery and have a Santa Claus who greets children and tries to fulfill their gift wishes. Needy children suffer so much this time of the year and we make sure that every one of them gets a gift of some kind.”
Please do what you can to help
It is the passion and concern that DiCara and Emery display that makes these organizations operate smoothly. Both understand the need to help those in circumstances beyond their control.
“We try to make things as easy as possible,” says DiCara. “We want people to feel hopeful and know that we are there to help them succeed in any way we can.”
DiCara and Emery are but two of many who devote their time and skills to helping those less fortunate. It is the time of year for all of us to step forward and do as much as we can.
During the season of giving, if you are willing and able, we encourage everyone to help those in need – whether they be one of these organizations, or one of the other many local organizations that help our friends and neighbors in need. And so, for more information visit www.primetimehouse.org or call (860) 618-2479, and www.fishnwct.org, or call (860) 482-7300.
By Joseph Montebello