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Cheshire resident Joesephine Carroll-Wiltshire knows what it's like to be struggling during the holidays. At one point in her life, when money was extremely tight and little was available, she received assistance from the Town of Madison, in which she lived.
Life is a little more comfortable for her now, even in this harsh economy, but she still remembers what it was like to have to ask for help.
That's why, at a recent pizza night event at Darcey School, Carroll-Wiltshire asked what she believed to be a very simple question: where does all the leftover food go?
“People looked at me like I had two heads,” remembered Carroll-Wiltshire. “Nobody knew. There is a food pantry in town, but no one knew if there was a soup kitchen, or something like that, around.”
From that simple question, Carroll-Wiltshire spawned a new idea to help local families in need.
For Thanksgiving and now Christmas, the Darcey School PTA Hospitality Committee has been putting together Baking Time Together Kits to be distributed to needy families through the Youth and Social Services Department Adopt-A-Family program. Over the last few weeks, members of the PTA have been assembling baking kits that provide families with the ingredients to make a variety of dishes, from traditional holiday fare to special recipes Darcey School family members have perfected over the years. The food and materials are provided, and the kits allow the family to come together and enjoy a time of cooking as a unit.
“I know what it is like to receive help, and I was so grateful for that help,” said Carroll-Wiltshire. “The fact that we are helping to feed these families is awesome. But, I also know how impersonal it felt just to get that box full of food. This makes it more personal.”
The idea first germinated during that pizza night, but was solidified a few weeks later when another member of the PTA brought in “Frankensteins” for everyone to enjoy. The Halloween-themed treats were simply rice cakes with a twist: each one had been decorated with some kind of candy that made the cake look ghoulish.
“I asked her how long it took for her to make them and she said not long at all, that she did it with her kids and they had a great time,” recalled Carroll-Wiltshire. “I thought that it would be great to do with my kids as well, so I asked if she could put a kit together with the ingredients and she said she could. That's when I thought about the Baking Time Together Kits.”
Carroll-Wiltshire approached the rest of the PTA with the idea and was greeted with overwhelming feedback. Then, she contacted the Town to see if they would like to become involved, and the Youth and Social Services Department suggested the Adopt-A-Family program would be a perfect landing place for the project.
Around Thanksgiving, more than 35 baskets were assembled, and volunteers were given the latitude to do what they wanted with each one. As Carroll-Wiltshire explained, some families assembled large baskets while those who were on a stricter budget made simpler collections. Also, the contents of each basket were not limited solely to food items. Some families included games that could be played by the whole family to go along with the baking kits.
“We really thought it was a good idea to have each one be a little different, that way everyone could do their own thing,” she stated.
There was also an emphasis put on assembling less traditional baking kits, so that families could try more interesting recipes to hopefully spice up their holiday experience.
One of the benefits of the project, Carroll-Wiltshire admitted, is that it also involves the students as well as the parents at Darcey. Her daughter, Isabella, has assisted her in making the kits and then delivering the kits, and that is a lesson Carroll-Wiltshire hopes she remembers for the rest of her life.
“She knows that she is working to help other kids,” said Carroll-Wiltshire. “It helps the kids to know that, even at their little level, they can make a big difference.”
While Thanksgiving was successful, the expectation is that Christmas and holiday baskets will easily surpass that initial endeavor, as Carroll-Wiltshire expects more than 60 baskets to be assembled. She commends all the members of the PTA, calling the parents involved “exceptional,” and also lauds the help provided by those at the Youth and Social Services Department.
But, Carroll-Wiltshire admits that she isn't doing any of it for approval or recognition. She is doing it for those who need help, like a mother she recently met, who will be looking for assistance this season.
“She told me that, seeing how important this was to me made it easier for her to ask for help,” explained Carroll-Wiltshire. “That's why I am doing this, for that mother and her family.”