The year was 1968. Gas cost 34 cents a gallon, a movie ticket was $1.50, the top song was “Hey Jude” by The Beatles, and an organization opened in Darien called Person-To-Person.

Today, 50 years later, P2P — with locations in Norwalk, Stamford, and Darien – is a thriving nonprofit charitable community-supported agency that provides year round emergency assistance to those in need.

“We are basic needs agency and we provide food, clothing and financial assistance, send kids to camp in the summer while their parents work, and provide college scholarships,” said Ceci Maher, executive director of P2P. “We serve 24,000 people a year across three sites.”

Person-To-Person serves people throughout Lower Fairfield County including Stamford, Norwalk, Darien, New Canaan, Weston, Westport and Wilton.

When touring Person-To-Person in Darien on a recent Friday morning, the first word that comes to mind — no matter where one goes inside and outside of the building – is busy.

The office contains a working food pantry, clothing center, and back office support staff.

Whether it's taking donations off trucks, sorting bags of clothing and putting them on hangers, placing food on shelves, filling out paperwork, or answering phones, dozens of volunteers are using every minute of their time.

As a “situational crisis emergency response agency,” people make an appointment and bring in their budget worksheets, including proof of residency, expenses, and current needs, Maher said.

Each client is seen on a one-on-one, confidential basis. Everyone receives services within 24 to 48 hours of applying.

Most of the people who receive assistance from P2P are the working poor, according to Maher.

“We are a program that wants to makes sure families stay together, their eviction gets prevented, and their lights stay on,” Maher said. “We are trying to create a stable community so families can thrive.”

P2P works with schools, Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, Weight Watchers, rotarys, churches, and companies to help raise money and collect food.

Ninety-six students are going to college this year because of P2P.

“We fill the gap between their financial aid package and what else they need,” Maher said.

PTP receives close to 60,000 bags of clothes a year. The community donates $10 million worth of food and clothing annually to P2P.

“There are angels in the community,” Maher said.

Person-to-Person recently completed a coat drive, giving out 1,300 coats within several hours.

For Thanksgiving, P2P will serve 950 families with everything they need to make their own meal, according to Maher.

In celebration of P2P’s 50th anniversary, the organization will be holding a Transforming Lives gala on Saturday, Nov. 17, at the Hyatt Regency in Old Greenwich. Guests at the sold-out event will include volunteers, supporters and sponsors.

Mobile food pantry


In April, Person-To-Person began a mobile food pantry in Stamford.

“Food insecurity in Stamford is quite large,” Maher said. “We wanted to address the issues for families and children who can’t access food, so we went out and we bought this 32-feet-long bread truck. It has a caseworker office in the front. On the back is the food pantry.”

The pantry has freezers and refrigerators, and offers fresh fruits and vegetables, milk, bread, produce and frozen meat.

The truck, which has been named Phil (to stand for “Fill” a truck), travels to four nonprofit organizations in Stamford.
“We can serve 48 families a day, just in Stamford,” Maher said.

Clients get seven days worth of food on the truck, which includes 21 meals for each person in the family.

“We work with a nutritionist to develop our food list for each family,” Maher said.

Many people who use the food trucks might not be able to have access to the food otherwise, she said.

“It's about bringing the services closer to the neighborhoods where they live,” she said. “When we started in April, we had 10 families a day utilizing the food pantry, and we are now up to 48 families.”

History


P2P started on April 18, 1968, after Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s death. Parish leaders wanted to do something in response to the assassination, and respond to civil rights issues, according to Maher.

“We started with a closet of food and a closet of clothing, at St. Luke’s,” said Tracy Cramer, chief philanthropy officer. “The first fall, someone came in and asked for $25 to pay for her books, and that was the start of the scholarship program,”

Cramer added that the following summer, someone came in and asked for help with emergency assistance, and this started the financial assistance program.

“Then, the founders asked what's happening for the kids in the summertime. How can their parents work if the kids are not in school?” Maher said. “That started the campership program.”

Many people who have received services from P2P have returned to volunteer or make a donation, according to Maher.

“On one occasion, someone came in and gave us a check for $200 because we had given it to them years ago, and they wanted to pay it forward,” Maher said.

“The whole idea is we are helping those who just want to do better and provide a better life for their children,” Maher said. “We help them at a time that’s difficult.”

For more information on Person-To-Person, 1864 Post Road in Darien, call 203-655-0048 weekdays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., or visit p2phelps.org/.

sfox@darientimes.com