restaurant and the charitable organization Gifts of Love joined forces on Wednesday evening to raise money to help Hartford area families in need.
The benefit at the Blue Back Square Mexican eatery is one of a series of “Tastes N’ Toasts” charitable events hosted by various restaurants in Blue Back this summer.
Outside the entrance to Besito, it was a beautiful, hot summer night and a steady flow of strolling people stopped at the table that Gifts of Love volunteers had set up to collect donations and distribute fliers.
The Avon-based charity was founded in 1989 with the motto, “Families Helping Families.” It’s dedicated “to help meet the basic needs of individuals and families in Central Connecticut experiencing a financial crisis so that they can achieve and maintain self-sufficiency.” The mission resonates loudly during these difficult times, addressing a problem no longer associated solely with inner cities.
“While we help people from all over the greater Hartford area, many people assume that residents in the more affluent towns like Avon, Simsbury and West Hartford are not struggling. Because of the economy, there has been in big increase in the number of families who need help in all towns. Downsizing and layoffs mean more of what we call ‘the working poor,’” states Gifts of Love Event Coordinator Adria Giordano.
Giordano, a elementary school mother of two girls (who also writes a blog on West Hartford Patch), has been involved with Gifts of Love for four years. She works tirelessly with many other volunteers, including a large contingent of other Norfeldt mothers, to ensure that those less fortunate can avail themselves of the many services the organization has to offer.
Among them is a food pantry which enables clients to “shop” for food, paper goods, personal hygiene items, meat, and fresh vegetables that, in some instances, have been grown in pots right outside the charity’s office door in Old Avon Village. Clients may also “shop” the clothes closet, stocked with donated in-season attire for their entire family. Used furniture items are also in demand and the organization’s newly acquired truck allows for pick-up of larger items such as sofas and chairs.
The success of the “Weekend Food Backpack Program” reveals the sad but true fact that many do not have enough food to put on the table. Each Friday, backpacks full of easy-to-prepare food and juices are distributed to children in Avon, Simsbury, Farmington and Canton who otherwise would not have a good meal during the weekend. On Monday morning, they return the empty backpack to their schools.
Giordano says that the program is transitioning into West Hartford, presently with the participation of and schools. She hopes that it will be expanded into other West Hartford schools in the future.
The organization continues to grow and add new programs. In addition to a partnership with the Community Farm of Simsbury, which supplies freshly grown fruits and vegetables for the charity, they now offer support services, such as one-time financial support for utility bills, food stamps, college placement, as well as food and nutrition counseling.
Designed to help to assist progression to economic self-sufficiency, Gifts of Love maintains a policy that their aid is not open ended. “We have a one-year time frame for the people we help. It’s a temporary thing. We want to support and guide them out of their immediate financial crisis,” notes Giordano.
The “Volunteen” program enables local high school students to volunteer and assist with the fresh food program, fundraising, events and running the Gifts of Love programs out of the Avon office.
The charity’s annual fundraising event will take place on Nov. 19 at the Hoffman Honda Showroom on the Albany Turnpike in Simsbury. There will be live music from the 1970s, celebrity chef food stations and auctions. In the coming months, Giordano and a multitude of volunteers from many different towns will be working hard to organize the event.
“I got involved with Gifts of Love because I am so fortunate and blessed to have food on my table for my daughters and to be able to go out and buy clothes for them. I want to be able to give back and help other families that don’t have that or may be struggling temporarily right now. For me to give back makes all the difference in the world. And an organization like Gifts of Love is a small organization but a powerful one. It’s a beautiful thing.”
For information on how to make a donation to Gifts of Love go to their website or phone 860-676-9864. Office hours at 35 E. Main St. in Avon are Monday-Friday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.