Group delivers literally tons of food to the doors of families from Readsboro to Wardsboro
WILMINGTON- Saturday, December 15, was an early Christmas for over 250 people in the Deerfield Valley. That is when local community service clubs united once again to visit homes from Readsboro to Wardsboro and deliver literally tons of food to the doors of local families and into their cupboards. It has been a tradition for three decades, according to Lions president Mark Hanna. He says the need grows every year, and the community comes together to meet that need.
The project’s chair, Jen Betit-Engel, said that the group also delivered poinsettias to shut-ins, those undergoing cancer treatments, and anyone they know of who experienced a loss. Betit-Engel coordinates her home club, the Whitingham-Halifax Lions (which now serves the Deerfield Valley), the Readsboro Lions, and the Rotary Club of the Deerfield Valley, in the endeavor. After Tropical Storm Irene, the program was expanded from Whitingham and Halifax to the entire valley, when first, Rotary was brought on board, and later the Readsboro club.
Food staples are mostly purchased through the Vermont FoodBank, which she points out stretches the buying power so more food can be given to those in need. Hundreds of pounds of fresh vegetables and fruits, as well as some treats, are sourced elsewhere. And those are sorted and bagged by volunteers a couple of days in advance. Seventy-four turkeys, 144 chickens and 50 hens were also purchased.
As an added treat, Rotarian Angel Balch donated hundreds of stuffed animal toys to add to the recipients’ grocery bags. For the past several years, the staging area has been the Old School Community Center (the old Wilmington High School). That is because, as Betit-Engel points out, the gymnasium there is the only space in the valley large enough to accommodate all the food and activity required to put the project together. Pallets of food line the perimeter of the gym and reusable grocery bags – 1,200 in all – are lined up in several rows down the length of the facility. A small family might receive three bags and a chicken, but larger families get much more.
Friday night a small army of volunteers transferred food from the pallets to the bags. It takes dozens of people several hours to prepare for the Saturday morning deliveries. And, come Saturday, Lions, Rotarians, and other community volunteers (from as far away as Brattleboro) arrive at 10-minute intervals to load up their vehicles and spread holiday joy. Many return after their initial delivery to make more runs.
The project is funded in large part by the Hungry Lion Bike Tour, which takes place the last Saturday of September each year. The HLBT was the brainchild of Lion Joe Specht, who succumbed to cancer shortly after the event a year ago. Thanks to his vision, not only does this food insecurity assistance program get fully funded, but also a substantial donation to the Deerfield Valley Food Pantry is made each year, as well as funding many other local causes. The HLBT is entering its eighth year.