HOPE Holiday Shop needs donations

MIDDLEBURY — Helping Overcome Poverty’s Effects (HOPE) officials are enlisting the help of local businesses, restaurants, places of worship and individuals to boost what has become an historically low inventory of free toys that are given to low-income children through the organization’s Holiday Shop.
“This is as low as I’ve seen it,” longtime HOPE Executive Director Jeanne Montross said of the Holiday Shop’s toy reserves.
How low?
Usually, the HOPE Holiday Shop has at least four gaylords full of toys that carry over from one holiday season to the next. Each Gaylord used by HOPE is four feet wide by four feet long by four feet tall.
This year’s inventory stands at two gaylords, meaning HOPE must spend more of its limited resources and make more vocal appeals for help to ensure each Addison County child will have at least one gift to open on Christmas.
Each year, the Holiday Shop at 282 Boardman St. on Middlebury welcomes hundreds of qualifying families to select a clothing outfit, two books, a toy or game, and an “activity” treat — such as crayons — for each of their children. All of it is free, thanks to the generosity of donors who give money, unwrapped gifts, crafts and clothing to the effort.
Kate Selby in August started her job as HOPE Holiday Shop coordinator. She explained this year’s toy shortage is in large part due to tremendous use of the shop last holiday season. The shop last year served around 600 children from a combined total of 300 families. That was up from 546 children in 2016, Selby noted.
HOPE officials said last year’s pressure on the Holiday Shop was a reflection of overall heavy use of the organization’s many other services, which include assistance with clothing, food and funds to prevent electricity and fuel shutoffs.
VOLUNTEERS ARE NOW organizing the HOPE Holiday Shop that will dispense free gifts to children from low-income households. The nonprofit is currently carrying a low inventory of gifts and has put out a new call for donations.
Photo courtesy of HOPE
“As of Sept. 30, the number of homeless people we’re serving is up 35 percent over last year at this time,” Montross said.
She added requests for help with utilities, housing and other items is a down slightly, and the number of people HOPE has served with employment-related needs is up 27 percent over last year at this time.
“That is great,” she said of the silver lining. “It means people are getting jobs.”
But that doesn’t solve the toy shortage, so Selby is working diligently to boost the inventory. HOPE has partnered with businesses to offer:
•  A special “Dine Out” promotion on Thursday, Nov. 15, through which customers at participating restaurants will receive a free treat if they bring in a new, unwrapped toy or game. Check out the HOPE toy wish list at hope-vt.org. Selby noted $25 gift cards to local stores are also popular among children, especially teens.
Donors shouldn’t spend more than $25-$30 for a gift. All items must be new and unwrapped.
Participating restaurants include Mary’s in Bristol, offering a free dessert; Bristol Cliffs Café, a free espresso drink; Mister Up’s in Middlebury, a free cookie skillet or mud pie; Rosie’s Restaurant in Middlebury, a free small sundae; Two Brothers Tavern in Middlebury, a free dessert; the Middlebury Inn, a free ‘Dessert-to-go’ and a 10-percent-off voucher; 3 Squares in Vergennes, a free cookie or chocolate chip cannoli.
“Everyone is really excited,” Selby said of the restaurant promotion.
•  The HOPE Holiday Shop Tree Tag program. Participating businesses host Christmas trees adorned with HOPE tags that bear wish-list toy items for kids. Donors can pick up a tag from any of the following: G Stone Motors, Middlebury; the National Bank of Middlebury branches on Main Street in Middlebury, Green Street in Vergennes, and Main Street in Bristol; Tinker and Smithy Game Store, Middlebury; Vermont Federal Credit Union, Middlebury; Kinney Drug, Vergennes; T. Stone Mechanical, Bridport; and Rosie’s Restaurant, Middlebury.
Selby noted UTC Aerospace in Vergennes recently picked up 100 tags to distribute among its employees. And G. Stone Motors is running a toy drive and some of its workers have offered to volunteer at the Holiday Shop.
Toy drop-off locations include the HOPE headquarters, G. Stone Motors, and the aforementioned National Bank of Middlebury branches.
The Holiday Gift Shop will open on Nov. 26 and will serve clients until Christmas Eve. It will be open Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., and on two Saturdays, Dec. 15 and Dec. 22, from 10 a.m. to noon.
Prospective shoppers should visit or call HOPE at 388-3608 to see of they financially qualify. In order to qualify, parents cannot earn a household income of more than 185 percent of the federal poverty guideline. That’s around $47,000 (pre-tax) annually for a family of four.
Shoppers are given a time and date to shop discreetly.
In addition to picking out clothes, toys and games for their children, parents can pick out a household item — such as a crockpot, and set of towels — while supplies last.
“Our goal is to allow parents to shop in the shop as if they were in any other store,” Selby said.
It should also be noted the Vermont Book Shop is hosting a week-long “Two Ways to Give” campaign to benefit Addison County Readers, Inc. and HOPE from November 10-16.
During that timeframe, select a book or books at the Vermont Book Shop wrapped in brown paper with a few keywords or a review on the outside to indicate what kind of book it might be. Make a donation (suggested $2) to Addison County Readers, Inc. for each one.
At the same time, the book shop is holding a “Llama Llama Pajama Drive.” Bring in a pair of new pajamas for kids that will go directly to HOPE. Additionally, for every pair of pajamas collected, Penguin Young Readers will donate a book to Anna Dewdney’s Pajama Program.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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