Editorial: Pledge to make a difference; HOPE, United Way see need rising

Two stories in today’s Addison Independentintersect at a revealing crossroad: on the one hand is a report from HOPE (Helping Overcome Poverty’s Effects) showing a troubling increase in the demand for its services (particularly the Food Shelf), and on the other is the 50th anniversary of the United Way of Addison County (UWAC) — a non-profit organization dedicated to helping the more than 20 organizations providing services to those in need.
The report from HOPE is worth a careful read, but here are a few highlights:
• Food Shelf use is up more than 13 percent from a year prior. In real terms, 725 individuals representing 308 county households sought assistance from the Food Shelf, compared to 655 individuals from 279 households in the prior year. About 30 percent of those individuals are children.
But children aren’t the only ones suffering. On the other end of the age spectrum, more of the county’s elderly are also seeking assistance. John Fallon, a HOPE food shelf volunteer for the past four years, reported that four new elderly residents appeared at HOPE’s doors last week, including a 90-year-old man, Fallon said, who “was about in tears that his life had gotten to this point.” Imagine that: 90 years of living self-sufficiently and then having to ask for food to fight off the hunger.
• While emergency demand for the Food Shelf is rising, HOPE has also been beefing up its food surplus and farm produce services over the past decade. Through August of this year, HOPE drew more than 7,500 visits compared to 7,332 visits by this time last year and 4,895 the year before. The program supplements its food shelf with local produce harvested from local farms. The gleaning program netted 40,519 pounds of donated food in 2016 (a bumper year), but this year the numbers are down about 40 percent because of the early summer rains and cool temperatures.
Because those numbers are down, HOPE is seeking extra produce from area residents who may have gardens producing more than their owners can eat. If you’re a gardener with a green thumb and have pounds of extra produce, consider giving HOPE a call at 388-3608.
On the heartening side, helping make that program work are 164 volunteers, including culinary students from the Hannaford Career Center who help process vegetables into soups. Equally as heartening is that HOPE’s mission is to reach even more county residents — recognizing that while more than 10 percent of county residents qualify for HOPE’s services, only about 2 to 3 percent are currently being served. To learn more about these programs and how to help, read the story on Page 1.
As compelling as HOPE’s story is, it is repeated at various non-profits across the county. That makes this year’s United Way campaign ever more poignant — doubly so because those at the higher end of the wealth scale have seen incomes rise, while those at the bottom continue to struggle.
This year’s United Way campaign is also notable because of the launch of a Legacy Society endowment fund, which seeks to generate $2 million to $3 million in charitable annuities and cash contributions — an ambitious goal, but well within the county’s capacity and a worthy target for the United Way’s 50th anniversary.
Also this year, UWAC will focus its giving to three local causes: the Heroin Epidemic Learning Program (HELP) that delivers drug prevention education to Addison County high schools; a workplace resource coordinator to help employees find the ancillary services they need to stay employed (like child care and transportation); and the creation of an Addison County Mentoring Collaborative to help youth who are not in school nor the workplace. That’s adjusting for the times, and directing money to today’s most pressing needs.
Helping the less fortunate among us, also magnifies one of the stark ironies of today’s economy — income inequality. For those in the upper one-third, times are good and getting better, but for those in the bottom third, it can be a hard-knock life. So count your blessings if you have the means, be grateful for the nine-year bull market if you’ve done well, and learn about this year’s UWAC campaign drive. Then, make a pledge to make a difference. And if you have an extra few pounds of cukes, carrots, apples or the like, don’t forget to give HOPE a call.
Angelo Lynn 

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