MIDDLEBURY — The turkeys are flying off the shelves at Helping Overcome Poverty’s Effects (HOPE’s) headquarters on Boardman Street, leaving officials concerned about being able to meet the demand of needy families this Thanksgiving and Christmas.
As of last Wednesday, 223 Addison County households had signed up for a turkey and related side dishes from the local poverty-fighting agency. HOPE has thus far ordered a total of 325 birds to cover special meals for qualifying families on Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Jeanne Montross, executive director of HOPE, is confident more turkeys will come in to meet demand, but she remains concerned about dwindling supplies to round out the menu — vegetables, potatoes and pie fillings, among other things.
“Usually, these shelves would be full,” Montross said, gesturing to an empty cardboard box-laden area near HOPE’s walk-in freezer.
The United States Department of Agriculture’s annual report on hunger shows Vermont and Alabama tied as having the highest increase in household food insecurity in the country over the last 10 years. The proportion of Vermont households running out of food — or lacking access to enough food for a healthy life — has risen from 12.1 percent to 13.6 percent, according to the report. Enrollment in 3SquaresVT (formerly known as Food Stamps) is now at an all-time high with more than 88,000 Vermonters participating, although many more, especially seniors, are suspected to be eligible.
“We are trying to make sure that no one will go without a happy holiday, but we need to be frugal in what we are doing,” Montross said.
That frugality is being epitomized this year by a new gleaning project through which county farms have shared some of their season’s crop bounty with HOPE and its growing list of clients.
In past years, HOPE has spent a few thousand dollars to buy canned vegetables, pie fillings, boxes of turkey stuffing and other traditional holiday sides.
That money isn’t in the budget this year, due to a surging demand for services brought on by the sluggish economy. But some of that food void, thankfully, is being filled by the gleaning program, which has yielded a lot of fresh vegetables, fruit and other items to fill out the turkey baskets.
Volunteers have stepped forward to help wash and process the raw vegetables and fruit into ready-to-use form. For example, volunteers have carved the meat from donated pumpkins, mashed it, frozen it, and are handing it out with the turkey baskets. Fresh turnips, beets, radishes, kale, winter squash, potatoes and other produce are also included. Donated bread is being converted into stuffing.
Montross is hoping the gleaned produce holds out to go along with the turkeys that HOPE purchases through the Vermont Food Bank or receives through donations.
“We will be (offering) produce and extras as long as they last,” Montross said. “We will guarantee that everyone will get a turkey, stuffing and cranberry mix.”
Qualifying families are entitled to one holiday food basket per year, which they can pick up for either the Thanksgiving or Christmas meal. The Thanksgiving baskets can be picked up from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at HOPE’s headquarters until Wednesday, Nov. 24. HOPE is also delivering food baskets to those who cannot make the trip. For more information, call 388-3608.
Area clergy, civic groups and community volunteers will also be offering free Thanksgiving meals this year.
Once again, the Addison County Eagles Club in Vergennes will be offering its traditional Thanksgiving dinner on Thursday, Nov. 25, at the clubhouse at 67 New Haven Road. The club will also be delivering to shut-ins. Anyone interested in participating should call the club at 877-2055. The Eagles Club has provided these meals since 1982.
Middlebury VFW Post 7823 at 530 Exchange St. will host its annual Thanksgiving Day dinner for anyone in the community from 12:30 p.m. to 3 p.m. Longtime co-organizer Craig Bingham said the dinner is open to anyone. There will be games for children and plenty of good food donated by area businesses. The meal in the past has served upwards of 250 people, including deliveries to shut-ins. Anyone wanting to volunteer should call 388-9505. To order a meal for delivery, call 388-9468.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected]