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'Gold star' given to social service organization

Jan Gottesman ,Managing Editor

STERLING - Sterling Selectmen Chairman Robert Cutler will be the first one to say not everyone gets a warm reception when they come before the board.

Wednesday night, Cutler gave Jodi Breidel, North County Regional Director of WHEAT Community Connections a"gold star."
Breidel was there to outline the services WHEAT, which is now a part of the United Way of Tri-County, provides to residents in several local communities, including Sterling.

The annual assessment that the town pays is $3,000, Breidel said, and there are also volunteers from the community who help with programs.

In the year since Breidel has returned to WHEAT - after being the executive director for several years, then leaving for the corporate world - the programs have consolidated from three Clinton locations to one - 272 High St. With everyone under one roof, it is easier to redirect services, she said. For example, if perishable items are donated to the pantry, some can be served in the cafe that day.

Breidel told selectmen that 171 households from Sterling have accessed the food pantry, with 389 household members; of those, 31 percent are seniors; 54 percent are adults and 15 percent are children. The pantry is open Monday through Wednesday, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., and Thursdays, 5 to 6 p.m.

In the community cafe, there were 371 visits from Sterling residents in the fiscal year 2015. The cafe serves approximately 40 meals per day, Monday through Friday, from 5 to 6 p.m.

"We are trying to rebuild partnerships with programs in the community," Breidel said, including fuel assistance, home care, education and career path opportunities and soon a dental cleaning and X-ray program.

Breidel said the WHEAT staff has worked to make the program a warm, welcoming place. For example, a piano was recently donated to the thrift store and it was put into the cafe. A volunteer piano player is being sought.

"It is a social outlet for people as well," she said, "especially in the cafe."

Community-based programs are possible, Breidel said. WHEAT has piloted a program in Bolton, partnering with the senior center, to deliver food from the pantry when Meals on Wheals are delivered.

WHEAT currently has a $300,000 budget and is currently running an $80,000 deficit."We have closed the gap over the last year," Breidel said. "I know I can close that gap."