Coat and sheet donations aid Wilbur Peck residents

At left, Phil Brous, who led the coat drive that will benefit Wilbur Peck Court residents, places down items that were donated with the help of Joe Kaliko and Andee Cantavero, social services coordinator for the Greenwich Housing Authority. —Ken Borsuk

At left, Phil Brous, who led the coat drive that will benefit Wilbur Peck Court residents, places down items that were donated with the help of Joe Kaliko and Andee Cantavero, social services coordinator for the Greenwich Housing Authority.
—Ken Borsuk

Residents at the town’s housing complex at Wilbur Peck Court are going to have a warmer winter ahead, thanks to coat donations that were recently collected by Greenwich’s Phil Brous.

But Mr. Brous did not just do this in isolation. Rather he teamed up with the Needs Clearing House (NCH), a Connecticut nonprofit founded by Greenwich residents Joe Kaliko and state Rep. Fred Camillo (R-151st) that helps charities in the Greenwich and Stamford area meet their needs. And when Mr. Brous brought his drive to their attention, they all connected with the Housing Authority to bring the items to people in need.

Mr. Brous said that close to 80 coats were collected at the end of December and were then given to Andee Cantavero, social services coordinator for the Greenwich Housing Authority. Wilbur Peck is one of four family developments of town housing, and Ms. Cantavero said the project is starting here with the intention of spreading. This month she will be setting up in Wilbur Peck so people can come in and get items, as they do at the food bank at Neighbor to Neighbor, without having to venture far from their apartments.

“The coat drive was really a joint venture between the Needs Clearing House and myself in Havemeyer Park,” Mr. Brous said. “We put out signs during the week telling people to look for the boxes and we got a really great response. I was very pleased with it. I wish it had been more, of course, but I’m happy with what we got and we’re going to continue.”

It’s not just the coats, though, that are going to the Wilbur Peck residents. One of the things NCH has been doing since its inception is bringing sheets, towels and other linens to people who might not otherwise have them. Mr. Kaliko has been working closely with the Stamford Marriott Hotel to get its used and cleaned sheets, and he brought a big collection of 80 sheets to Wilbur Peck after previously bringing donations to Greenwich organizations like Kids in Crisis and Neighbor to Neighbor.

“We’ve learned through doing this that Wilbur Peck has a much greater need for sheets, so we’re going to be contacting other sources on our own, and if people want to help, they should get in touch with us,” Mr. Kaliko said. “I think hotels are an overlooked resource for this. Many hotels are more than willing to help. Usually they take the sheets and turn them into cleaning rags, which saves them money. But when there’s something like this, which allows them to meet a charitable need, they’re more than willing to do it. They just have to be contacted.”

Mr. Camillo said the issue was that no one had bothered to ask the hotels to donate the sheets before Mr. Kaliko did. He said it’s great to see efforts like this go forward, especially in connection with coat drives like the one Mr. Brous did. Mr. Brous said he was just trying to meet a need in the community, and Mr. Camillo said it won’t stop here.

“Joe gets a lot of calls about this, and I hear from people, too,” Mr. Camillo said. “Phil, who is my neighbor and friend, got in touch with me out of the blue. He always has ideas for donating and charity drives, and he’s been a big help to the Needs Clearing House with his ideas.”

NCH previously did this to help the men’s shelter in Stamford after a donation from The Nathaniel Witherell, and now they’re bringing the sheets to Greenwich to help. The help is definitely appreciated. Ms. Cantavero said this is a need that many aren’t aware even exists in Greenwich.

“I think people do take it for granted that everyone has sheets on their bed,” Ms. Cantavero said. “When we do home visits, we’ll go around and notice that some kids don’t even have sheets on their bed. It’s just a blanket lying on top of a mattress. They don’t even have mattress pads.”

She added, “Sheets are expensive. Even if you’re going to a place like Target or Wal-Mart or Marshalls, you’re still spending $30 on twin-set sheets, and if you have six or 10 children, it’s going to add up.”

Mr. Kaliko said, “Neighbor to Neighbor has told us that sheets fly off the shelves. The food bank is fairly well stocked in Greenwich. People are aware of the need and help contribute on a regular basis. I was surprised to find out that sheets just disappear. There’s a great need for secondhand sheets.”

There are 110 apartments in Wilbur Peck Court, and Ms. Cantavero said the town serves several hundred residents there. She said she wanted to start in this complex because there are so many people there who are on the base $50 rent, which is the lowest in town.

“The most resident activity is here,” Ms. Cantavero said. “And this is basically where we have the residents with the lowest income. … We want to make sure we are able to reach out to those who might be the neediest first.”

Mr. Camillo said there isn’t just a lack of awareness about the need in Greenwich inside the town, but also on the state level, where he has been elected to three terms in office.

“We try to drill it home all the time that there is this need, but people don’t always seem to realize it,” Mr. Camillo said. “You have to remind people that in Greenwich, a lot of the people make less than $50,000 a year here. The perception of Greenwich is skewed by the upper income earners. We come up against that all the time, and people need to see we’re different from other towns like Darien and New Canaan, because we have public housing.”

He later added, “We have people who have fallen on hard times. They might have been shopping previously on Greenwich Avenue but now they need to turn to groups like Neighbor to Neighbor, and they’re very embarrassed by that. We also have a huge working class population in Greenwich. With 62,000 people here, the majority of them don’t live in a mansion. Certainly there’s a need here, and hopefully this will get so big that other towns will do it. If every one of the 169 towns did it, there’d be a little less strain on the local governments.”

The effort also involved nearby businesses. In addition to the sheets that the NCH got from the Marriott, Robert DeRosa owner of Jiffy Cleaners at 1251 East Putnam Avenue in Greenwich, helped by providing free cleaning for all the coats so they could be ready to be donated.

“Robert is an excellent example of a citizen who comes forward and helps with projects like this,” Mr. Kaliko said. “Greenwich Bank and Trust has come forward to help us with loans to firefighters so they could get their certifications. It’s businesses like that and people like Robert that help make our efforts happen. We’re very thankful for that.”

The help has come from other sources, too. Mr. Brous said Village Appliance in Port Chester, N.Y., donated boxes for the coat drive and the Staples location in Riverside donated the signs Mr. Brous used to advertise it.

More information about the NCH is available online at Mr. Kaliko said people who wanted to help by donating more sheets, linens, coats, or other items can also get in touch with him at 203-629-5555 or via email at [email protected] They may also reach out to him to bring attention to charities they are involved with. NCH was created to meet those needs, and it needs public involvement to be able to succeed.

Mr. Brous is also still collecting items like coats and other warm weather wear. People who wish to donate may get in touch with him via email at [email protected] or by calling him at 203-496-6179. He said coats, sheets and towels are the most needed as well as items like sweaters and sweatshirts that are in good shape. Ms. Cantavero said shoes are needed as well.

“We need items that are in good shape and can be reused,” Mr. Brous said. “We want people to dig a little deeper and give. There are people who need it and they’re local. Yes, people need help in Honduras and other countries, but it’s also needed right here. We have people who have lived here their whole life and don’t know about the need. They don’t know Wilbur Peck exists.”


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