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$25 Caspar contribution saves one life for one day

A little goes a long way in the season of more, more, more, and donating to the annual MIT Community Giving Campaign is one way for members of the Institute faculty and staff to make a dramatic difference in the lives of those in need.

Sometimes, that dramatic difference is one of life and death.

For example, it costs the CASPAR shelter at 240 Albany St. in Cambridge less than $25 to fund an overnight bed - and to save one life for one day.

CASPAR (Cambridge and Somerville Program for Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Rehabilitation), a shelter for homeless alcoholic men and women, is one of several programs supported by CSF through financial and volunteer assistance.

"For members of the MIT community, the fund serves as a reminder that we champion those among us who volunteer their time, talent and energy through local public service. To our Cambridge neighbors, it demonstrates our strong concern and willingness to face various challenges together," said Paul Parravano, co-director of the Office of Government and Community Relations.

Gail Enman, executive director of CASPAR, commented, "That funding level for overnight beds hasn't changed in 18 years, but the need for services for homeless men and women struggling with alcoholism or addiction has risen steadily. Even the smallest donation goes to saving a life by providing access to a bed. And saving a life today makes recovery possible tomorrow."

Recovery, said Enman, begins with getting clean and sober. With 15 different programs in place, CASPAR offers a "continuum of care" from the shelter through finding work and permanent housing.

"We don't give up on anyone. It starts with offering the bed, with saving the life. We make the opportunity available to get sober, find work and become tax-paying citizens.

"Our clients never forget. They come back to CASPAR as staff to give back what was given to them. Up to 85 percent of our staff in residential programs are former clients," said Enman.

Donations to the Community Service Fund are used to sustain community service programs like CASPAR. This year, donations are down by 18% - a lot of $25 beds - from last year.

CASPAR has been situated on MIT property since 1979. In 1993, MIT built the current facility, composed of a shelter for homeless men and women and a medical clinic. Numerous MIT student groups work or have worked with CASPAR, including CityDays, MIT Hunger Action Group, MIT South Asian American Students, MIT Hillel, MIT Graduate Student Volunteer Corps and MIT Atheists, Agnostics, Humanists.

Enman, who has served as director since 1994, also described the effects of cuts in federal and state funding on both the homeless population in Cambridge and on health and human services agencies ranging from police to fire to hospital emergency rooms.

"We cut staff during the summer and had to close the shelter during the day, otherwise neither staff nor our clients would be safe. The city's other emergency systems of care were overwhelmed immediately - calls for police, ambulances and rescue went up over 30 percent - and after three months the city manager intervened. We're now back to 107 overnight beds and they're occupied every night," Enman said.

The CSF was established in 1968 by a vote of the faculty to strengthen cooperation and understanding between MIT and the Cambridge community.

MIT's Community Service Fund supports CASPAR and On the Rise, a shelter for domestic violence survivors and homeless women.

The Community Giving Campaign allows MIT employees to give to the CSF through payroll deduction, check or credit card. The Campaign lasts until Dec. 31.

Annually, the campaign sponsors a winter clothing drive for local shelters and agencies. The clothing drive will run from Wednesday, Dec. 18, until Monday, Dec. 30, and will assist the Salvation Army, CASPAR, Shelter, Inc. and On the Rise. All these organizations were recognized at MIT's Cambridge First Day this year.

Shelters especially need winter sweaters, pants, coats, hats and gloves for adults; men's new underwear and white socks; and personal hygiene and first aid items. Organizers ask donors to sort and label clothing bags as men's or women's so donations can be distributed to appropriate shelters.

Enman emphasized, "We need high quality things for people who can't or who choose not to come indoors. For those who are outside, we are out there 18 hours a day distributing socks, underwear, mittens and scarves."

Another area in which a little goes a long way is white socks. "Homeless men and women are on their feet all the time. Our medical staff treat lesions and bandage sores right on the street where the clients are. Dyes are not good against open sores," said Enman.

Donated clothing ("what to do with that old prom dress?" asked Enman) that is not appropriate for shelter clients is sorted and sent to GEAR, a store on Highland Avenue in Somerville where homeless people may shop using vouchers and where others pay cash.

The 11 clothing drop-off locations include Lobby 13, Lobby 34, the rear lobby of Building 50, E18/E19, E23/E25 atrium, E52 lobby, the Student Center lobby, W91 outside of room 103, NE43 lobby, NW21-104 and NW16-205.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on December 18, 2002.

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