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HOPE preparing to hand out turkeys, organizing giving trees

MIDDLEBURY — It’s almost Thanksgiving, and once again they’re talking turkey at the Helping Overcome Poverty’s Effects (HOPE) office at 232 Boardman St. The Middlebury-based anti-poverty organization will give out more than 400 turkey baskets on Thanksgiving and Christmas to local low-income families who otherwise wouldn’t have a good celebratory meal.
And at the same time HOPE workers are assembling the holiday meals, they are also putting together the annual holiday “giving trees,” adorned with tags bearing anonymous wish-lists from children who otherwise wouldn’t receive Christmas gifts. Organizers are banking on more fortunate people to each pick up a tag and fulfill a wish list to brighten the holidays for what is becoming a growing number of local children living in poverty.
“We want to make sure everyone gets something,” said Jeanne Montross, executive director of HOPE.
Each year, HOPE sets aside enough resources to by around 325 turkeys through the Vermont Food Bank. That number usually grows to more than 400, augmented by some donated birds.
HOPE supplements the turkeys with other typical Thanksgiving meal trimmings, such as pie fillings, stuffing, potatoes, canned yams, cranberry sauce, juice, coffee (donated by Middlebury-based Vermont Coffee Co.) and assorted vegetables. But the wet summer took a toll on many crops, to the extent that there aren’t as many donated vegetables as last year, Montross noted. HOPE ran a gleaning program last year in cooperation with local farms.
“Farmers lost a lot of crops,” Montross lamented, alluding to the weather.
HOPE officials had already decided to pare back the basket contents a little this year in recognition of more pressing demands.
“We are spending less money (on the baskets) this year,” Montross said. “We’d prefer that people have a little less money for the meal and a little more for heating assistance and other services.”
Demand for services and holiday meals is expected to be high again this year, according to Montross and Dee Lamoureux, HOPE’s services manager.
The organization gave out a combined total of 437 turkey baskets last year — 263 for Thanksgiving and 174 for Christmas, according to Lamoureux. While basket pre-orders were on the light side as of Monday — 140 for Thanksgiving and 50 for Christmas — Lamoureux is confident virtually all the baskets will be spoken for when the inevitable last-minute phone calls come in from clients. Eligible households must make less than 185 percent of the federal poverty level, which means less than $3,445 (gross) per month for a family of four.
Pick-up of Thanksgiving baskets began on Tuesday, Nov. 15, and was scheduled to continue during HOPE business hours until Wednesday, Nov. 23 (the day before Thanksgiving). Qualifying families seeking to land one of the baskets should call HOPE at 388-3608 as soon as possible.
For anyone who misses the deadline, there will be at least two community Thanksgiving meals, one in Middlebury and one in Vergennes. These free meals are not just for low-income families, but are open to everyone in the community (see related story).
HOLIDAY GIFT DRIVE
Meanwhile, HOPE officials are already looking ahead to December and the annual drive for holiday gifts for children.
Lamoureux said she has received requests for 357 tags for giving trees that will be posted at businesses throughout the county. She expects far more requests during the next few weeks. The tags will feature gift requests from children and teens whose families do not have the resources to provide any this year. The giving trees are the one gift avenue for qualifying children ages 13 and older. Younger children can either request presents through the giving tree or a seasonal Christmas Shop based in Middlebury.
The National Bank of Middlebury, Middlebury College and Goodrich Corp. are among the top participating businesses in the giving tree program, according to Lamoureux. Those who take a tag can fulfill the anonymous child’s wish list to the best of their ability and return the tag, with the (unwrapped) gift(s), to the business at which they picked up the tag.
Families who have children with wish lists should contact HOPE as soon as possible.
Families with young children (12 and under) who instead choose the Christmas Shop must make an appointment for a visit to the nonprofit enterprise. While the Christmas Shop is based in HOPE’s Community Services building on Boardman Street, it is run by a separate organization called “Volunteers for Community Action.”
Qualifying families will be taken through the shop, at a clip of around three per half-hour, from Nov. 28 through Dec. 9. Volunteers who gather, assemble, and oversee the distribution of a wide selection of donated and purchased toys and clothing staff the shop.
Each Addison County child is allowed to take a pair of pants and a shirt, a hat and a pair of mittens, a coloring book, two books, a stocking-stuffer, and one toy. Older children can also have a notebook and a pencil.
The shop also offers some used clothing and other utilitarian items — such as blankets and towels — for kids and adults.
Middlebury resident Peg Kimball has been a chief organizer of the Christmas Shop for several years. She and her colleagues continue to be impressed with the generosity of local residents and businesses that donate cash, toys, clothing and homemade items to stock the shop’s shelves.
“We even have some people in Florida who make mittens and send them to us,” Kimball said.
The Christmas Shop was still accepting donations, with a particular need for coloring books and crayons. Anyone with questions or who wants to help should call Kimball at 388-4477.
“It’s a lot of fun,” she said of the shop.
Toys for Tots is also setting up bins for toy donations in Addison County. For more information about that program, call (802) 989-7136.
Reporter John Flowers is at johnf@addisonindependent.com.

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