Donations sought for county food shelves

MIDDLEBURY — While state and national political candidates early this week were promising a chicken in every pot, volunteers at Helping Overcome Poverty’s Effects (HOPE) were gathering turkeys and other food to make sure area low-income residents will have enough to eat for Thanksgiving and beyond.
This is the time of year when the HOPE larder is notoriously bare, said Jeanne Montross, executive director of the Middlebury nonprofit that provides emergency services for Addison County people in need of housing, clothing, food and/or financial assistance to keep their heat and lights on.
“The food goes out quickly; we are averaging 600 people per month,” Montross said on Monday of the most recent client trends at the HOPE food shelf. “When I first started (at HOPE) 15 years ago, we were seeing 150 people per month. It has been more busy than usual.”
The HOPE food shelf is available to Addison County households earning less than 185 percent of the federal poverty guideline. That translates to around $44,000 for a family of four, according to Montross. Eligible residents may make one trip per month to the food shelf and take a limited amount of food based on their family size.
The food shelf is intended to supplement a client’s food budget and any other related subsidies he or she might have, not completely fill the grocery void for the client for an entire month.
Montross provided a tour of the food shelf, which revealed plenty of empty shelving wanting for peanut butter, cereal, canned and fresh vegetables, fruit and other dietary staples. Montross recently made a special appeal for more food through social media that paid dividends on Monday with the delivery of several grocery bags of products that will provide some temporary relief.
But HOPE officials know that demand will soon exceed supply — particularly at this time of year, when low-income residents must spend more of their limited incomes on heating fuel, electricity and holiday gifts.
HOPE and other area food shelves in Vergennes and Bristol will soon benefit for annual food drives run by area schools and other groups. Those food drives, Montross said, provide key assistance to get low-income residents through the heart of the Vermont winter and into spring, when household bills tend to become more manageable and when vegetable gardens can come to the rescue. But such efforts, she said, are not as plentiful as in years past.
“There are not as many people doing food drives,” Montross said.
HOPE supplements donations by spending approximately $500 per month on supplies from the Vermont Food Bank. Montross said there are times when HOPE has to exceed that $500 budget, when donations and food reserves are not keeping pace with demand.
Anyone interested in helping HOPE with its food shelf reserves may call the organization at 388-3608, or visit its headquarters at 282 Boardman St.
John Fallon is a longtime HOPE volunteer and current part-time staffer who keeps track of food shelf orders and inventory.
“I think we have had a slight increase in people coming through here this year,” Fallon said on Monday, adding the previous three days had been “very busy.”
He cited peanut butter, dry cereals, vegetables, canned fruit and juices, baked beans, and canned spaghetti and meatballs as being among the most desired donations for the food shelf right now.
Jan Demers is executive director of the Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity, which operates Addison Community Action at 54 Creek Road. The ACA office includes a food shelf and also helps people access fuel, housing and income tax assistance. Demers said on Tuesday that the ACA could definitely use some food donations. The ACA office can be reached at 388-2285.
Meanwhile, business has also been fairly brisk at the Vergennes Community Food Shelf at the Congregational Church of Vergennes. The food shelf, located at 30 South Water St., has been serving an average of 60 households per week, according to the Rev. Gary Lewis, the church’s pastor.
 While Vergennes Community Food Shelf volunteers encourage clients to limit themselves to two visits per month, “We never turn anyone away,” Lewis stressed. Organizers only ask income information for those seeking federal food commodities (because of eligibility rules), according to Lewis.
“Our hope and goal is to make sure there is no excuse for anyone in our area to be hungry,” Lewis said.
The Vergennes-based food shelf, Lewis noted, is a joint effort of many different groups and individuals; the church simply provides the infrastructure to make sure the products can be stored and distributed conveniently. Many visitors hail from the Addison Northwest area, but the food shelf draws from throughout the county and beyond — including sometimes from New York State.
Provisions are currently in good shape, though cash contributions and donations of tuna fish and other good sources of canned protein would be gratefully accepted, according to Lewis.
The Vergennes Community Food Shelf is open Tuesdays and Thursdays, 2 p.m. to 4 p.m.; and Saturdays, 8 a.m. to 10 a.m.
Speaking of food, the two biggest meals of the year are just around the corner. With Thanksgiving and Christmas in mind, HOPE is amassing around 420 turkeys to distribute to folks who might otherwise not have a special family meal. Each turkey will include related dinner supplies, including rolls, stuffing mix, cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie filling, vegetables and recipes. Holiday food box recipients will get a chance to pick some of the specific ingredients they’d like to receive.
The HOPE food shelf is open 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday. Anyone interested in receiving a holiday meal box may contact HOPE at 388-3608.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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