By Maryteresa (Missy) Conrad
To the Editor:
The NEON Boutique at 24 Haviland St. in South Norwalk benefits us all. Clients of our Open Door Shelter can walk over there for free clothing. The shelter’s own distribution site on South Water Street never reopened after the flooding of Hurricane Sandy last year. The shelter’s home site on Merritt Street is short on space, and huge bags of donations present a safety hazard. The NEON Boutique is a good place for us to bring donations that will be accessible to the locality and are without any cost.
After Hurricane Sandy, the staff at NEON provided meals and clothing to those affected. Chiquita Stephenson asked her mother, Diane Thomas, who has raised foster children but was then looking for a paid job, to volunteer. Mrs. Thomas did: She cooked, served and took it upon herself to organize the jumble of donations. Her attractive and systematic result impressed the staff at NEON. Diane Thomas was offered the task of obtaining donations, sorting and displaying them, and even keeping the place clean. Have you ever been to the boutique (careful of the Parking Authority man who tickets the area)? Mrs. Thomas changes the displays often. I have seen her gently handle people who try to take too much. She has had to console people from our neighboring municipalities who are down on their luck, but do not want to ask for charity there. Now, for months, Mrs. Thomas has not been paid, but she has continued to keep the NEON Boutique open.
Do you remember the Welfare Reform of the 1990’s? One of the promises not yet honored is to provide child care for working parents. At least some people do have family to fill in. I have been at the boutique a couple of times when Diane Thomas’ grandchildren were there; the children were very well behaved. Many clients come with their own children.
Once, when I asked one of our long-serving legislators why, to save taxpayers’ money, levels of our government could not set a limit for the pay of executives of companies with whom governments do business, his response was, “Hey, this is America.” Executive pay is now a sign of prestige and respect; so, although it was not fiscally prudent nor good for management-employee relations, nor good for our public perception that ignores the excesses of some businesses but expects such purity and austerity in civil servants, Ms. Stephensen did take an untimely raise (I cannot believe that Mary Mann, who had so much responsibility at NEON for so many years, had been paid only $50,000 before; of course, the raise was double and also untimely).
An idea to cut costs at the NEON Boutique would be to rent out the apartment upstairs, instead of using it to sort and store donations. The planned training for people to learn how to work in sales could be done elsewhere or on site before opening hours (Tuesday to Friday, 12:30 p.m. until 6 pm). Perhaps one of our local groups such as Homefront or Builders without Borders could make the separation. Our Parking Authority, now private, could wave the fee at the meter outside ($7 per day for Mrs. Williams because the spot in the Haviland Street Parking Lot has never been there when she arrives at lunch time).
Of course, NEON needs restructuring. I myself had had a blessed Life and have not had to struggle to make do. I cannot imagine how our poorer people survive. We who are so fortunate can be patient and understanding. Our poor people will not really benefit from the newest attack submarine that costs $2.6 billion. Why should we at the local and state levels be fighting over pennies; why is not military spending and its effect on the rest of humanity with whom we share our one, beautiful Earth not truly discussed?
Maryteresa (Missy) Conrad