P2P celebrates 50 years
Nonprofit agency for those in need had origins in the civil rights era
NORWALK— After Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated on April 4, 1968, a group of parishioners met at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Darien to express concern about growing civil rights issues.
The Rev. Robert Nelson Back was head of the church at the time and had attended seminary with Martin Luther King Jr. During meetings, he and members of the church discussed ways to respond to the rocky social justice climate. One way they chose to react was by forming Person-To-Person.
“They got together, read books and had meetings,” said Ceci Maher, executive director at Person-to-Person (P2P), a nonprofit that offers emergency assistance to people in the Greater Norwalk area.
At its start, P2P began educating the community about poverty and injustice while offering free food and clothing to those in need. Within a year, Maher said, services expanded to providing emergency financial assistance, camp programs and college scholarships — something it is still doing to this day.
“The whole idea is to create stable communities, to keep children in schools and keep families in their homes,” Maher said. “The whole idea being, we want families and children to thrive.”
Volunteers and staff are celebrating 50 years of service this year. In the past half century, the organization expanded out
of Darien and now has locations in Norwalk, Darien and Stamford with a walkin option in all but Stamford.
On Wednesday morning, volunteers at the Norwalk site sorted through boxes and placed food onto shelves while clients perused the aisles, choosing from fresh produce, legumes, juices and other items. Receptionists offered coffee to people who waited at the front of the building to be serviced. The .
“We help 25,000 people per year with food and clothing and financial assistance,” said Maher, who explained the organization has 24 staff and 4,000 volunteers.
Besides provided food, each year the nonprofit sends 100 people to college on a $25,000 budget and 450 students to local camps each summer.
About 50 percent of students attend in-state schools and the other half leave Connecticut. Clients have graduated from Norwalk Community College, University of Connecticut and Western Connecticut State University to name a few. Most of P2P’s clients live in lower Fairfield County, in Stamford, Darien, Norwalk, New Canaan, Wilton, Westport and Weston, Maher said.
P2P is a communitysupported agency, with 3 percent of its funding coming from the city of Norwalk, Stamford and the Federal Emergency Management Agency. About 50 percent comes from individuals donating food, clothing and money. The remainder comes from community fundraising events and grants, Maher said.
“We really depend on volunteers,” she said. “We have volunteers who have been coming here for 25, 30 years because they feel as though they’re making a difference in the community, and they truly are.”
Honey Secchi has been a volunteer in Norwalk for 14 years. Initially, she thought to donate one weekend of her time. But clients and volunteers have made her stay.
“I just find it’s a wonderful experience,” she said. “That’s what I keep coming back for.”
Some clients have told her they don’t know how they would survive without the organization’s services and others have said they used to donate to P2P but are now on the receiving end.
Most clients are working people with minim wage jobs, living in one of the most expensive real estate and housing markets in the country, Maher said.
“We’re just helping people get over that rough patch,” the executive director. “In 13 years of being here, I can count on one hand how many times we were knowingly taken advantage of. People who have used the services in the past have come back to pay it forward.”
Naima Daniels has received services for a year. She moved to Norwalk from the Bronx because she couldn’t find financial assistance or food services in New York.
“There weren’t enough services there. When you do find them it’s such a run around that you just get a headache trying to find the services,” she said. “It’s not like that here. People help you here.”
Each month she’s eligible for financial assistance and can receive one week’s worth of food when she needs it. When P2P is not equipped to help clients, they offer referrals to outside social service organizations.
“So far they’ve helped me a lot. They’re helping me every month so I know they’re helping thousands of people,” Daniels said.
A small percentage of clients are permanently disabled or have mental health issues, but most clients have experienced “situational crises that generally resolve over time,” Maher said.
Many families start out using P2P’s services regularly but after four or five years, most move on to not needing the organization’s help. Some clients may come in episodically after that four- or five-year marker, but most will not rely on the organization regularly, Maher said. And that’s Person-To-Person’s mission: to move clients toward stability.
Person-to-Person Executive Director Ceci Maher sorts through donated clothes at the nonprofit agency’s Darien location on Thursday. P2P offers emergency assistance and basic needs to families as they move toward financial stability.
Person 2 Person Chief Operating Officer Elizabeth Finn unpacks boxes of donated food from Whole Foods Thursday for the pantry at their Darien location.
Person 2 Person volunteer Patty Cunningham of Darien sorts childrens clothes dropped off in Darien Thursday.