COVID won’t stop HOPE’s holiday gifts

KATE SELBY, COORDINATOR of Helping Overcome Poverty’s Effects’ (HOPE) Holiday Shop, displays some of the Christmas gifts that will be distributed free to area low-income families. The Holiday Shop has been accepting online contributions during the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo courtesy of Jeanne Montross

MIDDLEBURY — Just when it appeared that COVID-19 might play the role of the Grinch that stole Christmas from low-income families, Helping Overcome Poverty’s Effects (HOPE) has creatively ensured that its Holiday Shop will stay in business to distribute free toys, games and clothing.
While the organization isn’t allowing families to browse in its Holiday Shop at 282 Boardman St. this year, it’s taking the operation online to give donors and recipients the opportunity to do their parts to make a better Christmas for local kids.
Jeanne Montross, executive director of HOPE, had been concerned some potential donors and recipients might be under the impression the Holiday Shop was taking a one-year sabbatical due to the pandemic.
Nope. The service is just being offered differently, because contracting COVID-19 is not the kind of gift anyone wants.
First, donors are being asked to select their choice of gift(s) from a vast menu of options posted on HOPE’s website. Perusal of the website shows donation options broken down into the following categories: Teen gifts, family gifts, toys and dolls, books, games and activities, and arts and crafts.
There’s a “Push & Go” flatbed truck with excavator, for $27.99. There’s shark coloring book for $14.40. a dragon drawing set, for $32.96. A Dash Dapp popcorn maker for $16.99. And so on.
Donors can safely make the purchases online. HOPE receives the toys that are ultimately handed off to parents in the HOPE parking lot, amid masks and social distancing protocols. The products you select will be purchased on your behalf by the HOPE team, and distributed to families facing financial hardship
Receiving families need to get a gift form from HOPE, then return it (or mail it) to 282 Boardman St., Middlebury, Vt., 05753. They can select, for each child (18 and under), up to two books; two games; a stuffed animal; their preference of crayons, markers or colored pencils for a coloring book; socks and underwear; a hat and mittens; and a “household gift.” Receiving families are asked to rank their preferred gifts, as they might not get their first choices.
HOPE officials are requesting 48 hours to assemble each family’s gift bundle. Orders will be accepted all the way to noon on Christmas Eve, though people are encouraged to get their requests in a soon as possible.
A parent/guardian seeking to use the online Holiday Shop should call HOPE at 388-3608 to sign up.
So far, 66 households with a combined total of 155 children have registered, according to Montross. HOPE staff have been receiving multiple calls each day from people asking if the shop is operating and how they can sign up, Montross said. 
“The stock is holding out well, thanks to the online store and our ability to order a number of things wholesale from game distributors,” she said. “We’ve been doing our best to get the word out to donors that the shop is a bit different this year.”
Kate Selby is coordinator of the Holiday Shop.
“Although the Holiday Shop looks very different this year, we hope the new system will keep everyone safe, and still bring a bright holiday season to every family,” she said. “So far we have had almost 70 requests and packed over 30 orders ready to be picked up.”
While safety is the primary goal this year, the camaraderie is missed.
 “We will greatly miss seeing our clients come through our store, and most of all, we’ll miss our faithful, fabulous group of core Holiday Shop volunteers,” Selby said.

The holidays are also about good food and the coronavirus hasn’t kept HOPE from dispensing special meal boxes to area residents who need them. The organization handed out turkey meal boxes with all the trimmings to 201 households this past Thanksgiving, and will be handing out another 200 for Christmas, according to Montross.
Vermont Coffee Company has been a major partner in HOPE’s efforts to buy and give food to low-income residents. The company, owned by Paul Ralston, issued a $25,000 challenge for donations earlier this year that helped leverage an additional $45,000 for HOPE’s food programs.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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