'The timing was right': New Milford women start collection drive group to help people in need

NEW MILFORD — Residents Rachel Kelly and Debbie Abel are busy moms. They both have grown or growing children in school, and their days are filled with the many responsibilities of a 21st century parent.

Recently, the two friends started A Little Help from My Friends, a volunteer group based on Facebook that encourages people to help others by donating food and clothing.

Abel and Kelly held a coat drive in January, and still are distributing some of the nearly 500 coats collected, along with scarves, gloves, mittens and hats, to those who need them. So far they’ve distributed to The Gathering Place in Torrington, New Milford Social Services and several other smaller agencies.

“We started collaborating on different projects in 2012, and we usually do about two a year,” Abel said. “We never put a name to it, we just did it.”

The women held a food drive last fall, something they’ve held for the past eight years, and donated the collected items to New Milford Social Services. In December, they decided to help foster children.

“My neighbor adopted her child and has been working with (the Department of Children and Families) for a long time, and we decided to get involved,” Abel said. “Because of COVID-19 we knew it was going to be difficult, but it wasn’t. In a very short amount of time, we were inundated with brand-new toys. So many people wanted to help.”

They donated the toys to DCF as well as the Association of Religious Communities in Danbury, which gave the toys to needy children.

“When that was done, we looked at each other and said, ‘Oh, my gosh, it’s time for us to do more,’” Abel said. “So we decided to create A Little Help From My Friends. The timing was right.”

Their goal is to hold a project every month, while following their mission: to help others through kindness, goodwill and compassion.

“The idea is to foster positive changes, providing opportunities for people who wouldn’t normally get involved, or don’t feel comfortable doing it,” Abel said. “That’s what we’d like to see. We want to open it up and let more people get involved.”

They’ve already seen the impact of helping others in their volunteers. “When we did the coat drive, we had students helping us, and at one point in the day we had a lull,” Abel said. “I was talking to the kids, and I realized that they don’t necessarily see there are people in their own community that have a tougher time. I had a nice dialogue with them.

“That’s something we want to change — to show that there are people who are struggling and people need to be aware of that,” she said. “Once you’re aware, your eyes are opened.”

This month, Kelly and Abel partnered with JoJo’s Deli in New Milford for a Souper Bowl canned food drive. It will continue until the end of the month.

“JoJo’s reached out and asked if they could host it, and the response was terrific,” Abel said. “They were so excited to do it. They put it on their social media, and a few of their vendors saw what they were doing and donated more food.”

The canned food drive is continuing at The Po Cafe on Kirby Road in Washington, Conn., Kelly said. Their neighborhood ambassadors have collection boxes for canned goods on their front porch. “We also did a pop-your-trunk food drive on the New Milford Green this past weekend,” Kelly said.

A Little Help is a gift, Abel said, to empower people to help others.

“It helps people to understand that they don’t need to do things on a big scale to make a difference,” Kelly said. “We literally launched our community group in January, and in that short amount of time, we’ve gotten so much support from our friends, neighbors, and social services.”

In March, A Little Help is collecting personal care items to benefit the Women’s Center of Greater Danbury. “We have a local salon, Joe’s, that’s already come on board to be a donation center,” Abel said.

Abel has lived in New Milford for nearly 20 years with her husband, Matthew, a pediatrician, and their two children, Joshua, a senior at New Milford High School, and Camryn, a seventh-grader at Rumsey Hall.

Kelly is a 14-year resident. She and her husband, Joe, vice president of trade development at Southern Glazer’s Wine and Spirits of New York, have four children: Blaze, 27, an anesthesiologist; Max, 23, who attends the master’s degree program at the University of Georgia; Shane, 18; and Rose, 16. The teens attend New Milford High School.

Both women have involved their families in A Little Help’s work; 12-year-old Camryn designed the globe and butterfly logo for their Facebook page.

“Aside from Rachel’s two older boys, both families were there for the coat distribution,” Abel said. “Our kids are our technical support. ... We’d be lost without them.”

“Working beside our kids distributing the coats was such a wonderful experience,” Kelly said. “It was such a great day for all of us.”

To get involved with A Little Help From My Friends, find them on Instagram @Alittlehelpfrommyfriendsct, on Facebook at A-Little-Help-From-My-Friends, call Abel at 203-770-5324, or email alittlehelpct@gmail.com.