By KATHRYN FLAGG
MIDDLEBURY — What does a “downward dog” tunnel have to do with fighting hunger?
Plenty, if Otter Creek Yoga owner Joanna Colwell and one of her yoga students have anything to say about it.
Acting on a suggestion from Lila McVeigh, who has regularly practiced yoga with Colwell, Colwell is hosting a whimsical yoga class this week for pre-school-age children and their parents. While the class is free, she and McVeigh are suggesting parents bring a donation of $10 or non-perishable food items for the food shelf at the Helping Overcome Poverty’s Effects (HOPE) agency on Boardman Street.
As it turns out, Colwell’s yoga studio is one of several businesses chipping in to stock local food shelves this fall. And requiring a food donation for a food shelf is popular with other events, as well.
Across town, the Middlebury branch of the Chittenden Bank is participating in the company’s Share the Bounty initiative. Their three-month-long food drive, which started last month, will also be contributing donations to a local food shelf.
Other businesses and events in the county supporting area food banks include:
• Screening of “The Fragrant Spirit of Life” documentary film. Organizers of the Dec. 2 event in Bristol said donations of canned food will be accepted.
• Hypnosis Works at 52 Liberty St. in Bristol. A group hypnosis session on Dec. 4 at 7 p.m. is free with a non-perishable food donation for the food shelf or a $3 donation to Heifer International.
• The Cool Yule kick-off event in Bristol on Dec. 5. The lighting of the bandstand and memory tree on the town green, which will also feature seasonal songs by school choruses, will include a food collection for Bristol’s food bank.
• The Vergennes Union Elementary School’s annual holiday craft fair. The price of admission to the Dec. 6 fair, which runs between 9 a.m. and 3:30 p.m., is canned goods.
• The Vergennes Holiday Stroll. The Dec. 6 stroll is the kick-off for a weeklong collection for the community’s food shelf. Vergennes residents are encouraged to bring nonperishable food items between Dec. 6 and 13 to drop-off locations at participating Vergennes businesses.
• Jingle Bell Jaunt. There is a fee to register for the Dec. 6 run in Brandon, but participants are also asked to bring one canned-food item per person.
Colwell said collecting food for the needy is a particularly fitting gesture for yoga students. (That’s part of the motivation behind the studio’s annual Thanksgiving Day yoga class, which also serves as a benefit for the food shelf.)
“A central component of yoga is understanding your interconnectedness with other people and with the world,” she said, “so even though it can be a very solitary practice … you feel very, very connected to everybody and you want to help people who are less fortunate. It’s a perfect combination.”
This is not to say that yoga with toddlers bears too close a resemblance to a typical Colwell class.
“It’s very playful,” she said. “A lot of the postures are named after animals, so we do downward dog pose and bark like dogs, or cat pose and meow like cats.”
Colwell and McVeigh tested their idea for a toddler yoga fund-raiser last month, and the first class, Colwell said, was quite the success. The class filled several large bins of food and supplies, she said. If the enthusiasm is there, she said she’d be receptive to making the class a monthly event.
“If there’s interest, we’ll keep it up,” she said.
Come Thursday, Colwell and her band of budding yogis take to the mats at 10:30 a.m. at the Otter Creek Yoga studio in Middlebury’s Marble Works. Parents and tots can expect to sing silly songs, ring the Buddha bell, and of course, make that promised “downward dog” tunnel — not to mention make a difference for struggling families in the county.
“I know that life gets so busy and … it’s easy to get really wrapped up in your own life and forget that there are people struggling every single day to just feed their families,” Colwell said. “I’m just trying to push myself a little bit to be more mindful of that and try to see what kinds of things I can do to give a little bit more.”