New Foundation

Board members for Foundation 37 are, from left, Julie Stiltner, Maria Mills-Benat, Tony Tucci, Renee Bergin and Katrina Pfister (not pictured is Scott Steger).

It's the unforeseen events that Foundation 37 helps people overcome.

The community-based, volunteer organization is committed to significantly impacting people’s lives in Volusia County.

Co-founders Maria Mills-Benat and Tony Tucci recognized the need to help people ease the stress caused by unforeseen circumstances.  The website states that “while most organizations help communities on a much larger scale, we have decided the missing piece of the puzzle is helping one person at a time.”

Ms. Mills-Benat, president of Foundation 37, named it because she liked the idea of giving people a solid foundation. The number 37 represents the year her father, Howard Mills, was born and it was always a lucky number for her family.

“I have volunteered in a lot of various organizations within the community and none of them really did what I wanted them to do,” she said. “They all do great things but every organization has this little box that you have to fit into, and if you didn’t fit into that little box they couldn’t help you. I just kept thinking I wanted to do something that helped all the people that were falling through the cracks.”

She discussed her ideas with Mr. Tucci, a Spruce Creek High School classmate, and Foundation 37 was born. It is now in its fourth year.

Ms. Mills-Benat and Mr. Tucci are Port Orange residents and Florida natives. The organization, which consists of a six-member board, uses volunteers as needed and assists people in Port Orange, South Daytona, New Smyrna Beach, Ponce Inlet and Daytona Beach Shores with eventual plans to expand throughout Volusia.

“We have had such amazing support from the community,” Ms. Mills-Benat. “We help the people that no one else is doing anything for necessarily, or not enough for. We like to give people a hand up (not a hand out) that find themselves in excruciating circumstances.”

Examples include helping a domestic violence victim obtain low-income housing, furniture and other supplies who now has obtained a college degree. Another example was buying a lift chair for a woman whose insurance didn’t cover it. Recently Foundation 37 provided clothing, bedding and toiletries for a family displaced because of a South Daytona apartment fire.

Sometimes they assist people who have already worked with other agencies, but there were some gaps to be filled and/or sometimes they deny applications for assistance in order for people to access other community services first, Ms. Mills-Benat said. Assistance is usually a one-time intervention.

At Christmas, Foundation 37 gets particularly busy, providing toys for children, especially families that have missed the application deadline for other agencies. Ms. Mills-Benat lauded Kona Ice for lending them space in their warehouse to collect and distribute those toys.

She said that particularly in Port Orange there are a lot of children that are homeless, living in cars and motels, much more than people know.

“Sometimes the only meals they are getting is their free and reduced lunches at school,” she said. “One of the things we started doing is, we make baskets full of food that is easily prepared, so the two weeks they are out for Christmas break or Spring break they have food in their pantry.”

Numerous sponsors, such as Paytas Homes and Loads of Smiles, are key contributors to the success of Foundation 37, according to Ms. Mills-Benat.

Her organization is good about showing where money obtained is spent locally. Other sponsors are listed on the web page.

Other board members are Scott Steger, Julie Stiltner, Renee Michelle Bergin and Katrina Pfister. Ms. Mills-Benat also owns A Gourmet Affair Catering company and is married with three children.

For more information, to donate or volunteer, or to request assistance, visit Foundation37.org.

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