By JOHN FLOWERS
VERGENNES —A half-dozen Vergennes-area church congregations are joining forces to pull together money, food, clothing and other resources to help needy residents weather high heating fuel prices this winter.
Working together as the Economic Crisis Community Response Team, or ECCRT, the parishioners have already brainstormed such ideas as filling gas cans with enough fuel to get needy households through the night until they can tap into assistance programs, assembling an emergency firewood pile, reaching out to people who may have surplus vegetables in their gardens, and organizing trips to the Wal-Mart distribution center in Johnstown, N.Y., to get free “seconds” for distribution to those in need.
“We all expect (an economic crunch) is coming, because of the cost of fuel,” said Connie Goodrich, chairwoman of the ECCRT. “Our biggest concern is for seniors on fixed incomes and the working parent who doesn’t qualify for fuel assistance or food stamps.”
ECCRT membership currently includes members of the Congregational Church of Vergennes, St. Peter’s Catholic Church, St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, the Ferrisburgh Community Methodist Church, Addison Baptist Church and Vergennes Methodist Church. Organizers will reach out to fellow parishioners and non-church-goers alike in their effort to find resources for people they fear may have to choose between food, medicine and heating fuel this winter.
“We are anticipating a crisis of some kind,” said the Rev. Gary Lewis, pastor of the Congregational Church of Vergennes.
The Addison Independent reported on Sept. 1 that the number of families needing help from the Congregational Church’s food shelf has jumped 25 percent compared to the same time last year. The food shelf is currently helping around 125 households.
The ECCRT, Lewis said, will seek to provide “a safety net, without creating a new bureaucracy. We want to be a resource for people.”
Organizers have already begun networking with local nonprofits such as Helping Overcome Poverty’s Effects (HOPE) and the John W. Graham Emergency Shelter, to ensure they are not duplicating programs and services.
Lewis is pleased to see the effort spring not from the pulpits, but from the flocks.
“This is lay-lead,” Lewis said. “And it’s not just one or two churches, it’s everyone.”
The ECCRT has been meeting Sundays, from 6 to 8 p.m., at St. Peter’s Parish Hall. The next meeting, on Sept. 7, will be held at the Congregational Church.
“We want everyone in the public to be involved,” Goodrich said.
Northlands Job Corps is also getting involved, Goodrich noted. Northlands culinary students have offered to receive donated vegetables and make them into nutritious soups that will be frozen and donated back to food shelves. Goodrich said donors should drop off vegetables at the Job Corps administrative building on weekdays, between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m.
Goodrich noted that ECCRT is setting up a checking account for donations. In the meantime, donors should send check contributions to St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, c/o George Klohck, 6 Park St., Vergennes, VT 05491, writing “ECCRT” in the memo line.
“We will try to keep raising money so we don’t have to ask the churches for help,” Goodrich said.