ADDISON COUNTY — Helping Overcome Poverty’s Effects (HOPE) and other local nonprofits will spend the coming weeks working to lift people’s holiday spirits with some food and gifts they might not otherwise get in this tough economy.
Last Thursday saw HOPE workers assembling Thanksgiving turkey baskets that will fly out the door this week. The organization passed out 236 such baskets last year and another 141 for Christmas of 2008, according to HOPE Executive Director Jeanne Montross. Demand is much higher this year, as 273 families have signed up for food baskets, with additional requests anticipated for the Christmas meal.
“A fair number of people are saying they will save the basket for Christmas,” Montross said. “Some have said they will not take one so others may have one. I tell them we will be sure there is enough for everyone.”
Each basket includes a turkey and the trimmings, including pie filling and crust, potatoes, vegetables, juice, fruit and gravy mix. Some of the baskets will be available this week at the Congregational Church of Vergennes for residents in that area unable to travel to Middlebury.
“We have been stockpiling food specifically for the holidays,” Montross said, though HOPE’s food reserves in general are being drained at an quickening rate — and by new faces who have just joined the ranks of the needy.
“We have been seeing many people we have never seen before, people who have lost their jobs,” Montross said. “These are people who are not getting new jobs, or if they are, they are paying less than the jobs they had before.”
Less income means less money for holiday presents. With that in mind, HOPE is among several area groups that is trying to assemble a cache of toys, clothes and other gifts. HOPE is working in cooperation with area businesses — such as Middlebury College, Goodrich Corp. and the National Bank of Middlebury — on its annual “giving trees.” It’s a program through which people can select a tag representing the age and gender of a disadvantaged child who needs a gift. The donor then purchases the gift, which is then passed on to the anonymous recipient before Christmas.
“We have at least 700 tags going out this year — a little more than last year,” Montross said, adding the tags are due to go out to participating businesses this week.
She noted that teens are often unfortunately the last tags picked when its comes to the giving trees
“The teens are the ones who get left out, because they are difficult to shop for,” Montross said. “They are at a really important stage, with regards to self-esteem, seeing themselves compared to the other kids at schools. Many of the students come back to school (after the holidays) with new clothes and new gifts and things, and then there are the kids who have got little or nothing. They can feel that they are ‘not worth it,’ or that their parents are screwing up … It is a whole host of psychological things that they go through.”
Area schools will be informed this year on where the tags are available, so that students, their families and school officials can participate.
HOPE is still gratefully accepting contributions of food, money and other resources to help local people for the holidays. For information on how to help, call 388-3608, or stop in at the HOPE offices at 282 Boardman St. in Middlebury.
Other organizations are also pitching in.
Volunteers for Community Action will again offer its annual Christmas Shop in the HOPE building. The shop features donated and purchased toys, books and clothes that qualifying local families will be able to peruse beginning on Nov. 30 and through Dec. 11, 9:30 a.m. to noon and 1 to 3 p.m. Needy residents will be able to pick out attire — including outdoor clothing for children — as well as a toy and stocking stuffers, for free.
Christmas Shop organizers Peg Kimball, Marguerite Holden and Margaret Klohck said they are still accepting donations of toys, clean and gently used clothing and jackets, blankets, towels, and stocking stuffers. Financial contributions should be made payable to Volunteers for Community Action and be sent to Persis Rowe, P.O. Box 397, East Middlebury, VT 06740.
The Christmas Shop served 388 area children last year.
St. Mary’s Church Parish Hall on College Street in Middlebury is also offering its Christmas Shop for any low-income families in Addison County. The shop will offer a clothing gift for each member of the immediate family as well as a toy, a pair of socks, a pair of underpants, mittens, and a hat will be available for children 12 years old or younger. The shop served 644 children and adults last year. Unfortunately, due to increased demand, the shop will be unable to provide gifts for grandchildren.
The Christmas Shop is located in the basement of St. Mary’s Church and will be open on two Saturdays, Dec. 5 and 12, from 9:30 until 11:30 a.m.
Hungry folks who can’t cook at home, or who may simply want a break on Thanksgiving, can attend some free community meals this coming this Thursday. Middlebury VFW Post 7823 on Exchange Street will host the annual Middlebury Community Thanksgiving Dinner, with the meal to begin at 12:30 p.m. Those who need a meal delivered may call 388-9468.
Middlebury residents Craig Bingham and Beth Diamond have helped organize the dinner for more than two decades. They and a legion of volunteers served around 150 meals last Thanksgiving, thanks to the generous support of many area businesses.
“We had 250 pounds of turkey last year and 100 pounds of potatoes,” said Bingham, who is also a Middlebury selectman. “There was hardly any turkey left.”
The event features entertainment and also draws many international students from Middlebury College who stay in the area for the holiday.
“It’s really heartwarming that the number of volunteers keeps growing exponentially every year,” Bingham said.
Still, more volunteers are appreciated. Anyone wishing to so should call 388-9505.
“Just showing up and sharing the dinner is a great way of giving,” Diamond said.
The Addison County Eagles Club in Vergennes will also offer good food, fun and fellowship at its traditional Thanksgiving dinner on Thursday at noon. The dinner is open to anyone in the area who would otherwise be spending the holiday alone.
The Eagles will also deliver meals to area shut-ins at 11 a.m. To make a reservation or request a meal delivery, call 877-2055 after 3 p.m.
The Addison County Eagles are a family organization of “people helping people.” They have been serving Thanksgiving meals since 1982.