Local fund-raisers send money into recovering communities

ADDISON COUNTY — Riding out of Hancock in the back of a pickup truck just two days after flooding pummeled the town, Denise Goodnow made her way to work as principal at Cornwall’s Bingham Memorial School, where she knew she could count on her students to help her hometown.
“People (in Hancock) weren’t in need of clothing. They weren’t in need of food. They weren’t in need of hygienic products,” Goodnow said.
What people were in need of, she said, was money. Businesses and homes were destroyed and many people were left without jobs.
“People that couldn’t afford to lose anything lost everything,” Goodnow said.
Some of the youngest people in Cornwall responded with a fund drive that brought in much-needed cash for Hancock flood victims. And people around the county — particularly in Bristol, Middlebury and Shoreham — have also organized recent efforts to raise money for Vermonters hurt by flooding from Tropical Storm Irene.
Although her Hancock house was left intact by the floods that raged in Irene’s wake, Goodnow’s town was not. So she turned to her students, staff and the Cornwall community for help; a crew that she has worked with for six years to help those in need. Every year the school stockpiles more than 300 pounds of food in a food drive. When the Vermont National Guard was called overseas, the school collected personal hygiene products and sent them over. And when a school family had soaring medical bills, the students and staff helped pay some charges with a spaghetti dinner.
“When things crop up and we put a call out there for help, the response has always been tremendous,” she said.
This time was no different. The school set up a coin drop where students, staff and the community put coins and cash into a big jar that was salvaged from the White River Gulf Club in Rochester while school staff members were lending a hand on Sept. 11.
Since the beginning of September the school has been collecting money for the Hancock Emergency Fund, established to offer relief to devastated families. About a week after the floods, Goodnow pulled $350 of cash out of the jar to make room for more money, and on Tuesday the students dumped out the jar for a final accounting. Since the first withdrawal, the school, which only has 83 students, collected $882.13 in coins and $176.00 in bills. That put their grand total at $1408.13.
Goodnow was due to present the money to the town of Hancock on Wednesday night.
“We made a big oversized check (kind of like the Prize Patrol from Publishers Clearinghouse) with the total amount on it,” she said.
The Cornwall school and community aren’t the only ones working to raise money, fund-raising events for post-Irene recovery have poured out from all corners of the county. In the past week, Bristol residents organized a talent show, Shoreham’s Champlain Orchards held a two-day concert event, Middlebury Union High School (MUHS) students had a penny war — a contest where students compete using coins that are all donated to a cause — and Middlebury Fitness sponsored three workout classes.
Although none of the funds tallied from a given event exceeded $2,500, each fund-raiser showed that regardless of age or fund-raising experience, anybody can help raise much-needed money for Vermonters recovering from Irene. And the message that has come echoing across the state is that every little bit of financial assistance helps.
Three of this past week’s events — the Bristol talent show, MUHS penny war and Middlebury Fitness classes — raised funds for the United Way’s Vermont Disaster Relief Fund for long-term recovery. The fund, which by the end of last week had raised a total of $1,177,505, is meant to help cushion the blow of recovery costs for those citizens who have exhausted funds from federal agencies, insurance and other means of assistance, explained Helen Freismuth, co-director of the United Way of Addison County.
MUHS raised $585 for the fund, the Bristol talent show raised $2,300 and the Middlebury Fitness numbers weren’t yet reported at the time of this issue’s publication.
Bristol’s talent show — organized by community members Carl Engvall, Susanne Peck, Jim Stapleton and Diana Bigelow— drew an estimated 200 people to Holley Hall last Saturday evening.
The space was donated by the Bristol Recreation Department, and performers with talents ranging from classical and bluegrass musicianship to theater acts volunteered their time and abilities. A group of teenagers on the Lawrence Memorial Library Teen Advisory Board helped set up and collect donations.
“They were wonderful. They stayed until the bitter end and helped us put away refreshments and stacks of chairs,” said Bigelow about the teenagers.
Organizers didn’t charge a fee for admission to the performances. Instead, a free-will offering was accepted. When fund-raising on the west coast, Bigelow discovered that more donations funneled in when contributions weren’t mandated.
“We found that when we left it open, we’d make more money,” she said. “People would come in and pitch in a dollar … we found it was better that way because then everyone can come.”
Overall, Bigelow considered the talent show a success.
“There’s quite a lot of buzz around and people are asking, ‘What’s next?’” she said.
Although Shoreham’s Champlain Orchards lost more than 300 prime apple trees — an estimated value of $100,000 — the orchard owners Bill Suhr and Andrea Scott were more concerned about the devastation that Irene wrought on many other farms across the state.
“We at least have some income coming in still,” said Scott. “There are a lot of farmers who can’t sell their crops because they were under water or because they don’t have soil anymore.”
Last Saturday and Sunday, the husband-and-wife team hosted four musical performances at the Route 74 farm to benefit those farmers less fortunate than themselves. Half of the funds went the Northeast Organic Farmers Association of Vermont and the other half went to the Center for an Agricultural Economy in Hardwick. Both organizations have set up funds to help damaged farms recover from Irene.
“I wish I could say it was a smashing success. But we (only) earned almost $1,200 for both days,” said Scott, who admitted that she had hoped the event would raise more money.
“The folks that did come out to support us danced a long time and had a great time and were sort of incredulous that more people didn’t come.”
When asked if Champlain Orchards would hold another fund-raiser, Scott was open to the idea.
“I feel like we’re in such a beautiful spot and people love playing here,” she said. “I would definitely consider it again, but I think right now we’re just exhausted from harvest season.”
Reporter Andrew Stein is at [email protected]

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