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HOPE gathers food for winters and hoildays

MIDDLEBURY — Helping Overcome Poverty’s Effects (HOPE) is working overtime to make sure hungry Addison County residents have enough to eat through the holiday season.
The nonprofit organization has been working with local volunteers, farmers and the Vermont Food Bank to assemble more than 400 holiday food boxes to make sure people with bare larders have a special meal on either Thanksgiving or Christmas. But looking beyond that, HOPE is seeking to re-stock its food shelf in an effort to help carry folks through the cold months ahead, when residents’ incomes will be severely taxed by heating expenses.
Jeanne Montross, executive director of HOPE, said 644 unduplicated people availed themselves of the organization’s food shelf last month — an all-time record. Fortunately, the food shelf was prepared to meet the need, thanks to the generosity of local farmers, individual contributors, and food drives mounted by area school students, businesses and supermarkets.
“The community has been very helpful,” Montross said on Thursday.
HOPE’s food gathering efforts this fall have been aided by a new, temporary position made possible through a grant from the Middlebury Natural Foods Co-op. The grant has allowed HOPE to hire Gretchen Cotell as its “local food access coordinator.” Cotell has been coordinating food gathering efforts, identifying local sources of meats, vegetables and other supplies that are then funneled — with volunteer help — to the people who need them. Montross is looking for additional funding to retain Cotell through next year. The extra time would allow Cotell to, among other things, reignite HOPE’s gleaning program, through which surplus vegetables have been harvested from participating farms. Montross would like to see volunteers trained in proper harvesting techniques. Cotell is also creating and passing out healthy, tasty food recipes.
Montross said the food shelf is currently in most need of fruit, peanut butter, jelly, juice, tuna fish, soups, vegetables (except green beans), baked and refried beans, tortillas and cheese. The organization will also gratefully accept meat from hunters, provided it is properly packaged and labeled with a date.
HOPE officials noted there is also a need in the community for non-food items, such as toothbrushes, baby diapers and wipes, toothpaste and personal hygiene supplies.
The next few weeks will see HOPE staff and volunteers assemble holiday food boxes for people who would otherwise not have a decent meal on Thanksgiving or Christmas. The centerpiece of each box is a turkey purchased through the Vermont Food Bank, along with such items as vegetables; a starch, like potatoes or sweet potatoes; stuffing mix; the makings for a dessert, such as pie filling and pie crust ingredients; and other odds and ends. HOPE will gratefully accept cash donations and additional food box contributions, including evaporated milk, shortening, canned squash or pumpkin and vegetables.
“We could always use more turkeys,” she said, noting the organization’s big freezer.
Volunteers are being sought to process the food and pack the holiday boxes, Montross said. Receiving families can pick the boxes up during HOPE business hours prior to Thanksgiving. The organization’s office off Boardman Street in Middlebury will also be open the Saturday preceding Thanksgiving, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., to pass out the meal supplies. HOPE will also deliver some of the Thanksgiving boxes to food shelves in Bristol, Vergennes, and possibly Bridport, for easy pickup for families in those communities. Prospective recipients should call HOPE at 388-3608 to determine their eligibility.
EAGLES CLUB DINNER
Meanwhile, the Addison County Eagles Club in Vergennes is again planning its annual Thanksgiving dinner, served as usual at noon on Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 28, 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 send a note to the Eagles headquarters — 67 New Haven Road, Vergennes, VT 05491 — to indicate whether a sit-down meal or delivery is required. The Addison County Eagles have served these meals to 50 to 100 people annually since 1982.
Unfortunately, there will be no Thanksgiving meal this year at Middlebury Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 7823. Longtime co-organizers Craig Bingham and Beth Diamond had announced that last year’s Thanksgiving dinner would be their last as coordinators of the feast, a community meal prepared by volunteers using donated food from area businesses.
“It really does need to be taken over by a group,” Diamond said.
VFW officials said they hope to resume the meal next year.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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