Darien teens lead nonprofit for those in need
A Darien brother and sister are running a nonprofit organization to help the less fortunate in town.
The organization, called Helping Hands, donates items that aren’t covered by food stamps.
These include toothpaste, toothbrushes, laundry detergent, dryer sheets, tall kitchen garbage bags, tissues, paper towels, toilet paper, and deodorant, as well as shampoo, conditioner, soaps, dish washing liquid, sponges, razors and shaving cream.
The purpose of Helping Hands, which is run through The Depot Youth Center, is for low-income families and individuals to have access to those items.
Helping Hands started through The Depot in 2014 by Darien High School student Peyton Murray. However, over the past few years, it wasn’t active.
“We inherited it,” said Andrew Popson, 15, who is president. Popson’s sister Kaitlyn Popson, 17, is vice president.
“We picked it up the end of the spring of 2019,” Andrew said.
There are seven members of Helping Hands, ranging from freshmen to seniors. All attend Darien High School.
How it works
The teens will be setting up a table in front of various stores in town, asking customers for donations as they enter and leave the stores.
“We talk to different grocery stores around the area and we set up dates, once or twice a month, to sit in front of them,” Kaitlyn said. “We ask customers, ‘Can you buy these products?’ We take it from them right as they walk out of the store.”
The Popsons said they hope to be able to set up tables in front of Stop & Shop, Palmer’s Market, Walgreens, CVS, and Staples.
They will also be collecting back to school items, such as pens, pencils, folders, binders, and papers.
Items can be dropped off in a Helping Hands bin at The Depot Youth Center weekdays from 2:30-8 p.m. All donations must be new and unopened. Gift cards are also welcome.
Alexandra Ramsteck, director of human services, stores collected items in the Home Goods closet at Town Hall. She then distributes them to people who need them in town.
Andrew said he wanted to take over Helping Hands “to help give back to the community. I realized there are a lot of people that need help that you don’t think about.”
There are many reasons why people may find themselves in a situation where they need help, according to Marzano.
“Some dads and moms lose their jobs. The dad could be in the hospital, the mom could be sick,” Marzano said.
Marzano knows firsthand what it’s like to need assistance making ends meet.
“My kids were young when I got divorced unexpectedly. Human services saved my life by helping me pay the bills and getting me the supplies that I needed,” Marzano said. “It happened right before Thanksgiving, here in Darien. They brought us a Thanksgiving meal. They gave me gift cards for school supplies for my kid.”
“It was a short time until I got a job and got on my feet, and I was grateful,” Marzano said.
She added that the experience led her to introduce human services to the young people at The Depot Youth Center. “It helps them to be more aware of what town they’re living in, and realize that everyone is not privileged,” she said.
According to Ramsteck, Helping Hands “has been a tremendous help to us over the years.”
“On their own accord, they have organized numerous drives for our Home Goods closet, which helps our low income residents tremendously,” Ramsteck said. “It impresses me that these high school students have such big hearts and take the time to help those who are struggling in our community.”
Facts & figures
According to the Department of Social Services (DSS), which administers food stamps — otherwise known as SNAP, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — in 2015, 179 people in Darien received food stamps.
While that is the most current figure available, Ramsteck said she believes there are many more people currently receiving SNAP in Darien.
To qualify for SNAP, the maximum gross income per year cannot exceeed $46,440 for a family of four, and for a senior age 60 and over, the maximum is $1,872.
SNAP can only be used to purchase food.
The items that Helping Hands provides “are expensive and add up quickly,” Ramsteck said.
For the Home Goods closet, the town of Darien follows the income limits for the CEAP (Connecticut Energy Assistance Program, also administered by DSS), “which is higher than SNAP income limits,” she said.
The maximum income limit for a family of four for CEAP is $67,530.
However, the DSS takes into consideration extenuating circumstances, case by case.
“The unfortunate thing is, the state does not take into consideration cost of living, so the income limit is statewide,” said Ramsteck, adding that “Fairfield County is much more expensive to live in than other, more rural areas of the state.”
From April to June 30, 137 Darien residents benefited from the home goods closet, according to Ramsteck.
“We rely on donations and appreciate any drives or monetary donations that local organizations and clubs have for the program,” Ramsteck said.
In April, Helping Hands collected items at a booth at the Community Health Awareness Fair at The Depot Youth Center.
Helping Hands is looking for new members. In addition, Andrew said he hopes someone will take on the organization once its members have all graduated.
He added that he’s “really grateful for the opportunity to help out the community.”
For more information on Helping Hands, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.