Winnetka, Community

Caring Neighbors spreads holiday cheer to 70 local families

There is still time to help neighbors in need, which have more than doubled since 2017

Thanks to New Trier Township’s Caring Neighbors program, many local families faced with hardships won’t miss out this holiday season. 

The program is overseen by social worker Jeanne Winsted Rosser, who works with identified township families with children under the age of 18 and receive food pantry or other assistance. She knows how the kindness of others can make a difference during the holiday season and beyond.  

“It’s easy to forget that families in our own neighborhood can face hard times,” Winsted Rosser said. “Having community support during a time of need is critical to ensuring families can keep the heat on, put food on the table and maintain housing.”

To make the program work, Winsted Rosser seeks local business owners, organizations and individuals willing to anonymously sponsor one of the families in need. This year, donors were asked to provide gift cards to local grocers and all-purpose stores, such as Target and Walmart, putting the shopping into the hands of the recipients. 

“Gift cards are a great way to give agency to families who are struggling.” Winsted Rosser said. “It gives them a sense of control during a time where many things are out of their control.”

As a result of Winsted Rosser’s dedication to helping those in need, holiday worries were eased as she personally delivered gift cards to approximately 70 local families starting on Monday, Dec. 18. Just six years ago, 29 families participated in the program.

Having community support during a time of need is critical to ensuring families can keep the heat on, put food on the table and maintain housing.”
Jeanne Winsted Rosser, director of New Trier Township’s Caring Neighbors program

Although the holidays are winding down, the kindness is not. In fact, the Caring Neighbors program is merely a reflection of the many good deeds the Township is committed to year-round, such as the food pantry.

Brian Leverenz, the pantry’s manager and restorative justice coordinator, explained the pantry’s growing demands.

“We’ve seen a steady increase of clients at the pantry within the past 18 months. In November alone, there were 271 visits made to the pantry, the highest amount ever,” Leverenz said. 

While Leverenz cannot give one clear reason why the need is so high, his general observation is that no one is immune from the seven D’s: disabilities, disease, displacement, divorce, death, desertion, drugs and alcohol, and domestic violence. 

Levernz shared that donations to the pantry from the community help keep the shelves stocked, noting a special need during the warmer months.

“Around the holidays, everyone’s thoughts turn to food and charity,” he said. “It is during the spring and summer, however, that we really need those donations. Families who are already struggling are further burdened when school lets out and there are no more cafeteria lunches.”

Leverenz explained that hosting a food drive outside of a local grocer like Jewel or The Grand can make all the difference. 

“One of these drives can help stock our pantry shelves for months. It would be ideal to see a drive being held once per month from April-October,” he said.

In addition to the pantry and Caring Neighbors, the Township offers emergency and general assistance.  An Angel Fund helps residents, who do not qualify for general assistance, when life-threatening emergencies occur. Likewise, the Township Child Care Scholarship Assistance programs provide financial support to working, income qualified residents. 

To learn more about the New Trier Township offerings of good will or to learn which items are most needed at the pantry, visit the Township’s website.

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Alexa Burnell

Alexa Burnell is a Wilmette resident who has been covering the North Shore for the past seven years, previously for The Wilmette Beacon and its sister newspapers.

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