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HOPE looks to jolly up the holidays for those in need

FAITH PARKINS, LEFT, and Helen Haerle are longtime volunteers for the Helping Overcome Poverty’s Effects Holiday Shop, which will open later this month to ensure struggling families have access to free gifts for their children this Christmas.
Photo courtesy Jeanne Montross

MIDDLEBURY — Addison County residents will soon be tucking into robust holiday meals and opening wonderful gifts.

The non-profit Helping Overcome Poverty’s Effects (HOPE) wants to make sure everyone can share a spot at the dinner table and Christmas tree.

Once again, HOPE is assembling around 200 “holiday meal boxes” — each containing a turkey and other Thanksgiving meal staples — that will be made available to households with an income less than 200% of the federal poverty guideline. That’s currently $55,500 annually for a family of four.

And thanks to the generosity of Addison County residents and HOPE’s aggressive grant writing, the nonprofit expects to offer a similar number of meal boxes around Christmastime. Those who benefit from a meal box on Thanksgiving are ineligible for another at Christmas, but HOPE Executive Director Jeanne Montross said she and her staff will do all they can to make sure everyone who is hungry on either holiday can get food assistance.

“We’re going to see an increase in requests,” Montross predicted. “We’ve received some nice grants and (have) purchasing contracts through local farmers, which has been helpful.”

HOPE is in the unusual situation this year of having to purchase its turkeys (rather than get them for free) through the Vermont Food Bank, so Montross said financial donations would be welcomed to help defray the costs of the birds.

The national average price of a whole, frozen turkey is currently $2.45 per pound, an increase of about 70 cents per pound since last year.

Anyone able to contribute should make their check out to HOPE and send it to 282 Boardman St, Suite 1A, Middlebury, VT 05753.

HOPE could also use help with some of the other staples of the food boxes, including juice (64-ounce containers), canned yams and carrots and Jell-O mixes. Montross said HOPE already has pie ingredients and a lot of gleaned, fresh produce to add to the boxes.

Those needing a holiday food box should call hope at 802-388-3608. Applicants will be given a basic form to complete.

At the same time, HOPE needs other provisions for its popular food shelf. In particular needed are donations of black and kidney beans, salad dressing, cold cereal and cake/cookie mixes, according to Montross. The organization is happy to receive donations Monday through Friday, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.

“We want everyone to have a festive holiday meal with their families,” Montross said.

HOPE has for the last few weeks been signing up folks for food boxes and shopping appointments through its annual Holiday Shop, which will open in the nonprofit’s community services building at 282 Boardman St. on Monday, Nov. 28. Shopping opportunities will be offered Mondays through Thursdays, starting at 9 a.m. The shop will close on Christmas Eve.

“Last year, the holiday shop provided gifts for 484 (Addison County) children, and we expect that to rise this year,” Montross said.

Qualifying households (again, earning up to 200% of the federal poverty guideline) are given a time and date to visit the holiday shop. The beautifully decorated space is customarily brimming with books, toys, games and other items for their children (ages birth through 18), all offered free of charge. Shoppers can select a limited number of presents per child, as well as a household gift — such as a coffee maker, dishware, etc. — during their 30-minute visit.

HOPE has set aside money for the gifts, but the Addison County community has been the backbone of generating the holiday shop’s inventory and volunteer workforce.

As in past years, HOPE is offering Christmas tree tags to local businesses and individuals. Each tag offers an age range and gift ideas for that particular demographic. For example, gift cards (ranging from $25 to $50) to local and statewide stores are always a hit with teens. The tags are hung from Christmas trees at participating businesses and then gradually snapped up by community members wishing to help stock the holiday shop. The National Bank of Middlebury, Collins Aerospace and G. Stone are just a few examples of participating businesses.

Montross and her colleagues have printed out 680 tags this year, of which 300 are up for grabs on trees at this point. Gift donors shouldn’t wrap their purchases. In some cases, participating businesses will accept the gifts for a bulk delivery to HOPE, or donors can bring their unwrapped merchandise directly to the nonprofit.


Faith Parkins, a longtime volunteer at the HOPE Holiday Shop, is urging donors to supply their gifts sooner, rather than later. This will ensure a wide selection for families from the get-go.

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought two years of challenges to HOPE’s holiday outreach efforts. But Montross said circumstances are now almost back to “normal,” which should translate to a smoother transfer of gifts.

And fortunately, the holiday shop is off to a nice start due to a nice reserve of gifts left over from last year.

“The more people are able to give, the more we can do for the community,” Montross said.

Dedicated volunteers like Parkins, Helen Haerle, Janet Mosurick, Connie Wagner and Eileen & Dave Bearor collectively spend dozens of hours each year making sure the holiday shop is well stocked, and in an appealing way.

Parkins and Haerle have been involved with the HOPE shop since its inception, as they were with its precursor, once located at St. Mary’s Church in Middlebury.

Parkins will again be in charge of organizing the shop’s inventory and restocking its tables, shelves and racks as they become depleted.

She continues to be touched by the families who come in, folks going through some rocky times but who are grateful for the help they’re receiving.

“Christmas is so hard for people; children want things and today everything is so expensive,” Parkins said.

“People who come in never ask for anything beyond (their allotted number of gifts),” she added. “Whatever we’re willing to offer, they’re happy to get.”

Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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