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ACCAG gears up for the holiday season

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November 12, 2007

By JOHN FLOWERS

MIDDLEBURY — Addison County Community Action Group (ACCAG) officials are concerned there may be fewer holiday gifts for area needy children this year because eligible families are not getting enough information about a key program that offers free presents.

At issue is ACCAG’s “Giving Tree Program,” through which income-eligible families can fill out wish-list applications for children under 18 years old. The application is then condensed into an tree-shaped tag that is forwarded to participating businesses. Customers and employees of those businesses can pick up one of the tags and buy a present, which is then picked up by ACCAG and given to the family. The recipients’ names are kept confidential.

Last year ACCAG received 760 Giving Tree applications and has previously taken in more than 900 in one year. But ACCAG Executive Director Jeanne Montross on Thursday noted that she had received only 300 applications thus far, a very low number compared to previous years.

Montross theorized a big reason for the drop has been because some Addison County schools have now declined to send Giving Tree Program application forms home with students. In the past, all students had been given the forms and eligible families would then return them to ACCAG. But Montross said some schools don’t want to run the risk of having students bringing confidential family information at school.

“It’s been significant,” Montross said of the impact on the schools’ decision on the Giving Tree program. She said Middlebury schools have continued to send the forms home with kids, but Vergennes and Bristol-area schools have not participated this year.

Efforts to reach Addison Northeast Supervisory Union Superintendent Evelyn Howard and Addison Northwest Supervisory Union Superintendent Tom O’Brien were unsuccessful as the Addison Independent went to press.

Montross now hopes that potential participants will learn about the program through the media and ACCAG’s newsletter. She would like to receive completed application forms within the next two weeks, though ACCAG will accept them even later, if need be.

“We have cases where the gifts come in so late that the parents have no way to get here to pick them up, because they have no transportation,” Montross said. “It has to be planned.”

Businesses and individuals are also urged to donate to the Christmas Shop in ACCAG’s Community Services Building on Boardman Street. Needy residents are allowed to walk through the shop and pick out a toy and clothing for their children.

HOLIDAY MEALS

ACCAG is also getting ready to set the Thanksgiving and Christmas tables of low-income families who would otherwise not be able to afford a holiday feast.

The agency is collecting the approximately 350 turkeys, with all the meal trimmings, that will be offered to eligible families who must make less than 180 percent of the federal poverty guideline, which is $3,096 per month for a household of four.

Montross said ACCAG will purchase turkeys at a very reasonable rate from the Vermont Food Bank. The agency will also seek out, and accept donations of, stuffing mixes, pie filling, cranberry sauce, potatoes and other holiday meal staples. Financial contributions are also welcome.

While ACCAG is preparing for the holidays, agency officials are concerned about the looming winter. A slowing economy and skyrocketing heating fuel costs are a portend of big demands for services at ACCAG. Montross said she expects the food shelf to be in particularly high demand.

“We are the agency of last resort, and they are coming,” Montross said.

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