To the Editor:

As summer edges toward fall, New Milford Social Services wants area residents to know of ways to help neighbors affected by the economy.

Usually a quiet time of year for us, this summer we have seen a steady stream of people approaching Social Services with needs, many for the first time ever.

Our Food Bank usage is up 34 percent over last year, with significant increases from families with children and local elders.

Food donations always drop in the summer. This combined with increased usage puts area food pantries into precarious shape.

Additionally, residents struggle with utility payments, home heating and holiday gifts for their children.

Our office had a 42 percent increase in applicants for the Connecticut Energy Assistance Program last year and we are bracing for more this year. We know are colleagues around the region are coping with similar increases.

Here is how you can help:

nDonate food to your local Food Bank, or participate in our Sept. 20 event, "Walk a Mile for a Meal" in which a bag of non-perishable groceries is purchased and then walked from the Big Y to the Social Services office at 40 Main St.

Canterbury School is our sponsor for this event that helps re-stock the pantry in a fun way. Our pantry is "going green" soon, so donations of re-usable grocery bags are also needed.

nFor the upcoming holiday season, we urge practical gifts: link with existing programs such as the Santa Fund in New Milford or buy gift cards for social service agencies to pass along appropriately.

nSeveral families who prefer to focus on charity at the holidays have "adopted a family" to help or made a financial gift in lieu of buying another round of (unneeded) gifts for their loved ones.

nFinally, monetary donations to funds such as The Good Samaritan Fund, the Hope Fund (helps with housing needs), or the Community Fuel Bank are always appreciated.

We are truly indebted to our generous community and hope you find this helpful as we head into the months to come.

Please call us at 860-355-6079 for information on any of our programs or ideas.

Peg Molina, LCSW

Director of Social services

New Milford