Deidre Houlihan DiCara had spent 29 years as a professional in girl scouting, 23 of those as the executive director of the Girl Scouts of NWCT, until she was approached seven years ago to assume the leadership role at FISH NWCT—Friends in Service to Humanity—in Torrington. While contemplating the gravity of taking on homelessness and hunger, it took her six months to accept the offer, one she now realizes is her true calling in life. It seems that things have come full circle for this urban studies major from Wheaton College whose senior paper once delved into the homeless of Boston.
- How did your family influence you?
My parents raised us in an idyllic country setting—surrounded by dogs, cats, bunnies, and ponies—where they instilled a great sense of community and volunteerism in us. I’m fortunate to be living in our family home in Winchester, where three generations of the family still gather for Christmas.
- Can you describe what FISH NWCT does?
In the best of times, we maintain a 35 bed homeless shelter—last year serving 101 individuals—71 adults, 13 children, and 17 veterans. Our shelter residents receive meals, bedding, mental health and medical assistance, and GED classes if needed. They have case management to coordinate services, assist with job search support, and vocational training as they await permanent supportive housing placement. At the FISH Food Pantry, we distribute enough food to provide 113,841 meals to 1,506 individuals.
- What do people need to know about the homeless and the food insecure of Litchfield County?
Every homeless person is an individual facing tough economic times, and every hungry family has their own unique story. We at FISH NWCT see the very human social welfare challenges of families, individuals, and veterans facing life crises every day and now the fear of the Coronavirus. We strive to restore the confidence and well-being of those who are the most vulnerable and have the courage to come forward and humbly ask for help.
- When the pandemic hit, what were your first thoughts?
The moment they closed Italy and the market plummeted, I knew we were facing a world crisis. Immediately I thought how will we stay well on the front line, and keep our doors open at FISH to serve those who depend on us? How will I fund the organization? And my greatest fear is how will we keep the FISH Homeless Shelter staffed if illness enters?
- How did FISH respond to Covid-19?
We re-arranged dorm rooms, created isolation areas, and developed protocols. “Team Stay Healthy” worked to keep up morale, and to deliver food services at the pantry. We are now stretched to add those who are furloughed and those with families in need.
- How have you received support from the community during the pandemic?
So many heroes and angels have appeared during this pandemic! I use Facebook daily to report good deeds by folks who volunteer—who provide dinner to the shelter as we are now serving three meals a day. These include mask makers, health providers who helped rearrange the shelter sleeping areas and advised me as I developed health and safety protocols, miraculous financial donors, friends and Food Rescue USA delivering groceries for the food pantry, receiving pictures from children with hearts and rainbows—so many are shining in their goodness and generosity! We are forever grateful.
- Besides donating food, money, or our time, how else can we help?
Once the pandemic ends, I invite everyone to take my “grand” tour of FISH and to join me in our “Rally Day to End Hunger and Homeless in NWCT,” the Saturday before Thanksgiving. fishnwct.org