NEW BRITAIN - This holiday season the New Britain Lions Club will be providing the children who members take shopping as part of the Warm The Children program with a little bit extra.
In its 14th year, Warm The Children has provided winter clothing to thousands of New Britain kids in need ages three to 10 with the help of Town Clerk Mark Bernacki, the New Britain Herald, the New Britain Lions Club, dozens of volunteers - who fundraise and act as “shoppers” helping families to pick out coats, hats, mittens and other items - and thousands of donors throughout the years.
The New Britain Lions Club is instrumental in the effort, fundraising and coordinating dozens of volunteer shoppers. Members of the club also act as volunteer shoppers, meeting up to 60 families at J.C. Penney to pick out their new winter items. This year, the children that go shopping with the Lions Club members will also receive yellow string bags with the club’s logo filled with school supplies. “We wanted to do something a little extra,” said Club President Francine Austin. “Every child in the family who goes shopping with our members will receive the bags.”
Costco also donated 40 backpacks, which will be distributed through the Lions Club volunteer shoppers as well. Members have been collecting pencils, paper and other school supply items to fill the bags, Austin said. The club also hosts fundraisers like an event at Talbots a few weeks ago when the store donated 10 percent of purchases from members or those who mention the Lions Club to Warm The Children.
“I love giving back to the community,” Austin said. “We’re here to serve.” With no overhead, Warm The Children relies strictly on donations, grants and the volunteers to provide $60 in warm clothing to 800 to 900 city children. Like the prior two years, J.C. Penney at Westfarms mall will be the shopping location where volunteers will take families to get the best price, said Bernacki who estimates that the organization will need to raise between $48,000 to $54,000 to make sure every child who qualifies to receive the clothing does.
The children who need help with clothing are identified by social workers in the New Britain Consolidated School District and the HRA Head Start program. When a child is identified, their siblings ages three to 10 can get clothing too, Bernacki said.
The New Britain Lions Club does fundraising and Bernacki obtains grants but the organization relies on donations from the public and from civic groups to meet their goal of providing warm clothing to every child who qualifies. As of Thursday, including a $20,000 grant Bernacki obtained, Warm The Children has raised $33,182. Every penny donated goes directly toward the purchase of clothing for the kids.
Around Thanksgiving, the volunteer shoppers will begin hitting J.C. Penney with families to choose their clothing. From start to finish, the process is about “neighbors helping neighbors” and the community working together to benefit children, Bernacki said.
People can donate with credit cards by calling The Herald at 860-225-4601 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Make checks payable to Warm The Children Fund of New Britain and mail to: c/o The Herald, P.O. Box 1090, One Liberty Square, New Britain, CT 06050. Anyone who wishes to volunteer can also call 860-225-4601.