Groups set tables for the hungry this holiday season

MIDDLEBURY — Local social service agencies, civic clubs, clergy and individuals have begun their annual efforts to ensure that every Addison County family has access to a nice meal and a gift for their children this holiday season.
As of Nov. 14, Helping Overcome Poverty’s Effects (HOPE) had received more than 140 requests from families seeking a turkey dinner for Thanksgiving. The poverty-fighting agency gave out a combined total of more than 440 holiday meals last Thanksgiving and Christmas. Jeanne Montross, HOPE executive director, thanked local folks, businesses, civic organizations and religious institutions for pitching in food provisions and cash contributions to put food on the tables of area families who would otherwise not have a wholesome holiday feast.
HOPE is purchasing the turkeys through the Vermont Food Bank. Each meal basket includes a bird with a variety of trimmings, including cranberry sauce, stuffing, instant gravy, potatoes, pie crust, pumpkin filling, dinner rolls, juice, fruit and a variety of vegetables, both canned and fresh — some donated by local farms like Golden Russet Farm and the Elmer Farm.
Clients are allowed a holiday food basket for either Thanksgiving or Christmas; not both.
“We so far have purchased 325 turkeys and we know we will need a lot more,” Montross said late last week. “The community has really been helping out. The Lions Club in Vergennes just gave us a nice check for food and gifts for kids. Rotary collected $350 this morning … to purchase more turkeys.”
Montross added HOPE will gratefully accept financial or food donations for the Thanksgiving baskets up until this Wednesday afternoon, Nov. 24. Items ranging from evaporated milk to turkeys are in high demand and can be delivered to the organization’s headquarters off Boardman Street between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Anything that can’t be used in the baskets will find its way to the HOPE food shelf, which has taken a hit during this sluggish economy.
“I am anticipating we will do more than 400 baskets between the two holidays,” Montross said. “In past years, we have sent out newsletters to everybody about (the holiday food baskets). We didn’t send the newsletter this year, and we are seeing some people we haven’t seen before.”
Meanwhile, there are at least two community Thanksgiving dinners open to anyone who’d like some holiday cheer or a day off from cooking.
Craig Bingham and Beth Diamond are the dynamic duo behind the annual turkey dinner at the Middlebury Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 7823. And they are serving notice that this will be their last year organizing the mega-meal, which they have been doing together for more than 15 years. Bingham’s involvement dates back to 1987.
“We are ready to retire,” Bingham said, before uttering an irresistible pun: “We need someone else to step up to the plate.”
Bingham, Diamond and a legion of volunteers have annually prepped, cooked and served the meal to more than 100 hungry visitors and packed up another 100 dinners for delivery to homebound individuals. The meal has attracted kids, seniors, Middlebury College students, local luminaries and entertainers who have lent their talents to the affair.
A variety of Middlebury-area merchants have donated all of the necessary provisions for the meal; all the diners need to do is bring their respective appetites.
“People have even brought their out-of-town guests,” Diamond said. “We never know from year to year who is going to show up.”
The meal begins at the VFW off Exchange Street in Middlebury at around 12:30 p.m. and continues until everyone is fed, according to Bingham. Those wanting meal deliveries should call the VFW ahead of time at 388-9468. Anyone interested in taking over the organizational reins of the dinner should call the Bingham/Diamond household at 388-9505.
The Addison County Eagles Club in Vergennes is again planning its annual Thanksgiving dinner, served as usual at noon on Thursday, Nov. 22, at its hall at 67 New Haven Road. The club will also deliver complete meals at 11 a.m. if the recipient is a shut-in living in the Vergennes area. The club asks that people call as soon as possible 877-2055 or drop off a note at the Eagles headquarters on New Haven Road, to give an indication whether a sit-down meal or delivery is required.
The Addison County Eagles have provided these meals, which have served 50 to 100 people, since 1982.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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