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Community Chest needs help to help

By James Kinneen
Hometown Weekly Reporter

The Westwood Community Chest needs money. And as much as it hurts them to do so, they are admitting it, and asking for the community's help.

Board member Matt Scafidi was keen to highlight the aid the 501(c)(3) nonprofit offers Westwood residents and the good work the organization does, because the Chest is running out of money. When pressed on where funds typically come from and what the issue is, he noted that while the Community Chest has many people that loyally donate to them, the amount of people asking for help, during the pandemic, is higher than ever before.   

“It’s one hundred percent from local people and business. So, we might have some great banks and grocery stores that give us money, but it’s really all about Westwood residents. It’s people writing $100 checks at Christmas, or writing a $2,000 check at tax time. We’re the biggest charity for a lot of people in town, and we’ve got a lot of people that are loyal to us. The only reason I’m really, aggressively reaching out to [the community] is because of COVID-19. Our applications are spiking and we’re very concerned that we’re going to have to start saying ‘no’ to people left and right. We’re going to break all records this year in terms of how much money we give out, and how many families we support in Westwood. We’re really concerned we’re going to run out of money sometime soon.”

The way the Community Chest works is pretty simple. Westwood residents reach out for help via an application online or in a town building, and the Chest pays off the bill they’re struggling with. However, the organization usually caps aid at a $1,000 a year, per family; limits the types of bills they will pay (usually medical, mortgage, utility or rent); and has a vetting process and vote, to make sure the applicant’s needs are legitimate.

“We cut checks to people’s oil company, the electric company, the mortgage company. We have a whole process where the application comes in, it expresses the need, we evaluate it, and make sure we’re not getting scammed. Then we do some vetting, we vote on it, and start cutting checks. We have a limit. We try to give people up to 1,000 a year. There are some extenuating circumstances to that, but we try to not be a crutch for people. We’re part-time, temporary financial assistance for important stuff: household stuff, utilities, medical bills. Right now, the reasons on almost all of these applications is ‘laid off due to COVID-19.’ We’re seeing many, many more applications right now, and they’re almost all because of the coronavirus.”

One of the more unique elements to the Community Chest is the anonymity of those receiving aid. Scafidi noted, multiple times, that while the Chest is serving your neighbors in Westwood, they don’t want people to know who is being helped.

“It’s completely confidential, and it’s important that it’s confidential, because these are our neighbors and we don’t want to know who they are. It’s a completely confidential application process.”

While younger generations are more comfortable asking for financial help for themselves or their friends online via sites like GoFundMe, many of the people the Chest helps are elderly - and many of them are individuals whose pride prevents them for asking for money, and who would never be comfortable with other people knowing about their financial issues.

“It pains them to talk about,” said Scafidi when asked about the viability of public, social media fundraisers for such individuals. “They would never put themselves out there like that.”

This anonymity could be problematic, compared to other charities, in terms of soliciting donations. For example, if you give to Habitat for Humanity, they show you a house built with your money. Donate to Operation Smile, and they’ll send you a before-and-after picture of a child’s mouth. But if you donate to the Community Chest, you’ll likely never know who your money helped. What you will know, however, is that you helped someone in your own backyard. The Community Chest is sometimes, literally, neighbors helping neighbors.

“There’s so many good charities out there. Whatever the heck people are giving their money to, great. But I will tell you these applications are coming from people that literally live next door to you. And you think it’s all hunky dory behind their windows, but they’re struggling in there. They’re financially strapped. They’re thinking about foreclosure. This stuff hits home a little bit more.”

Scafidi said that aside from money, the Chest also needs new board members, and wanted it pointed out that despite the Chest’s hardships, residents shouldn’t be shy about applying for aid. The Chest’s website (westwoodcommunitychest.org) has both a way for you to donate, and to apply for aid - but many town buildings have paper applications, if you don’t have access to the internet.

It takes a lot to humble yourself, admit you need financial help, and reach out to your neighbors for aid. But in this time of unprecedented medical and financial hardships, the Westwood Community Chest is doing it publicly, so they can keep taking care of those that do it privately.  

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