Turkeys, toys collected for those in need this holiday season

ADDISON COUNTY — Helping Overcome Poverty’s Effects (HOPE) and other area groups are launching their annual efforts to make sure all Addison County families are able to enjoy a nice meal on Thanksgiving and ensure that all local children have at least one present to open this holiday season.
Monday saw some dedicated volunteers staffing the HOPE Holiday Shop, which features donated clothing, toys and books from which qualifying low-income families can select free gifts for their children. The shop even provides gift wrapping paper for parents to get the presents ready for Christmas, Hanukkah, or whatever holiday they plan to observe this season.
Addison County households earning less than 185 percent of the federal poverty guideline can qualify for HOPE Holiday Shop gifts. That translates to an annual income of no more than $44,123 for a family of four. Qualifying parents must make an appointment with HOPE to visit the holiday shop, where they can select the following per child: a main gift; a clothing outfit or a coat; some books; a game or craft; something from the “teen table,” if that applies; some stocking stuffers; and an extra gift from an “extras” table that features duplicates or some of the holdover gifts.
Darlene Palmer, Jane Steele and Gale Hurd were the volunteers supervising the store on Monday. Palmer has enjoyed seeing the reactions of the people who come in and realize they will be able to get some gifts for their children in spite of their financial limitations.
“It makes you feel great to see their faces,” Palmer said. “And some of the families can be a little overwhelmed.”
Hurd has been volunteering at the Holiday Shop for more than 15 years. She talked about a local dad who visited the shop last year who had limited funds, three children and a wife undergoing cancer treatments.
“He said, ‘If it weren’t for this, my kids wouldn’t have anything for Christmas,’” Hurd recalled.
All of the gifts are donated, or purchased thanks to money donated by area individuals and businesses. HOPE has made out hundreds of tags featuring gift ideas provided by qualifying parents. Jeanne Montross, executive director of HOPE, said Star Wars merchandise has proven to be this year’s hot request.
Once filled out, the tree-like tags are distributed to local businesses — such as the National Bank of Middlebury, local real estate firms and Middlebury College — places of worship, and individuals who have expressed an interest in helping out. Donors are asked to purchase a couple of the gifts written on their tag, if possible. Anyone seeking one of the tags should contact hope at 388-3608.
The Holiday Shop will be open until Dec. 23 and operates from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Around 10 core volunteers are staffing the shop; more helpers are needed.
Palmer noted the Holiday Shop serves an average of more than 600 children each year.
Meanwhile, HOPE and other organizations throughout the county are gathering supplies for Thanksgiving Day meals for folks who wouldn’t otherwise have access to such a feast.
The Fraternal Order of Eagles in Vergennes will host its annual Thanksgiving dinner at noon on Thursday, Nov. 26. The organization also has a roster of volunteers to make home deliveries of food by 11 a.m. for folks in the Vergennes area. The community meal is open to everyone in the area who would otherwise be spending the day home alone. Addison County Eagles No. 3801 has been providing the Thanksgiving meals since 1982.
Those interested in partaking in this year’s meal should call the Eagles Club, before Nov. 20, at 877-2055 for more information, to sign up and to specify whether  home delivery will be needed.
It should also be noted that volunteers this year are resurrecting what had been a longstanding community Thanksgiving meal in Middlebury. Craig Bingham and Beth Diamond had organized the meal, featuring turkey with all the trimmings and entertainment, for many years. Bingham and Diamond had to step back from that endeavor a few years ago and hoped someone else would step forward to carry on the tradition.
Donald Welch has offered to take the reins as head chef and lead organizer, according to Bingham. He has put together a crew and has secured donations so that the free dinner can once again be held at the Middlebury VFW on Exchange Street. The Nov. 26 dinner will last from noon to 3 p.m., with take-out also available during those hours. Delivery of meals will be available throughout Addison County, and people should call the VFW at 388-9468 to arrange for delivery or to make a reservation.
While Addison County Transit Resources (ACTR) will not be operating, “Dial-a-Ride” rides to the dinner for those who are age 60 and older, or disabled, may be obtained by calling ACTR at 388-2287. The deadline for Dial-a-Ride calls is 5 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 25.
At HOPE, staff and volunteers have been putting together scores of Thanksgiving meal boxes for people whose cupboards are bare. Many of those who avail themselves of this meal this year will see a different poultry staple as the centerpiece of their meal box: A large roasting chicken. Montross explained that with the price of turkey now edging above $1 per pound, HOPE wants to get the biggest value for its limited dollars. So HOPE has purchased around 300 large roasting chickens through the Vermont Food Bank. Those chickens, and a limited number of turkeys, will be supplemented by fresh and canned vegetables, stuffing ingredients, pie crusts and fillings, spices, and other Thanksgiving sides. The bulk of the food in the boxes is being donated or purchased with donated funds and/or HOPE resources. Montross gave big thanks to area farmers who have either donated fresh veggies or provided them at a reduced cost.
More meal box items are needed, including evaporated milk (for pies), cranberry sauce, stuffing mixes, instant potatoes, fruit and butter. HOPE is also handing out recipes to empower people to make dishes on their own, such as homemade stuffing, soups and pies.
As usual, HOPE wants to distribute a few hundred meal boxes for Thanksgiving and a few hundred more for Christmas.
Montross praised the many volunteers — including around 20 Middlebury College students — who have come in to sort the food and pack it.
“They come from all over the world,” Montross said, marveling at the different languages and musical genres that have been dancing through the HOPE headquarters on Boardman Street.
Montross stressed that HOPE’s food needs extend beyond the seasonal meal boxes. The organization’s food shelf is getting pretty bare. She credited area schools and organizations for mounting food drives, but said some items are in short supply (see list).
For more information, call HOPE at 388-3608.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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