BRATTLEBORO — When I co-founded Project Feed the Thousands 26 years ago, I never imagined that our mission would be so incredibly necessary all these years later - that the need would have increased so exponentially - that we would be supporting nine area food shelves and community meal programs.
This year, I sought to visit all of the food shelves that Project Feed the Thousands supports, and to write about them so that we can all have a better understanding of the food-insecurity challenges that many people in our community face.
This is the first in a series of three such profiles of these local food shelves and the vital role they have in the lives of our friends and neighbors.
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Hinsdale Food Pantry - My wife, Rose, and I visited Darlene Leonard, welfare director for the town of Hinsdale, N.H., which runs the food pantry. The food shelf is located in the historic Town Hall on Main Street, and while Darlene was quick to point out that she has a very small food shelf, I was equally quick to point out that for the 30 or so families that rely on her food shelf, it is, in fact, big.
We noticed a healthy assortment of canned and other non-perishable food products, along with a good array of personal-care items. She has a small refrigerator and freezer as well.
Darlene told us that she mostly serves young, single parents, along with individuals who often need a little help tiding themselves over during difficult times.
Because her food shelf space is small, she primarily uses funds collected during Project Feed the Thousands to provide vouchers so that her clients can purchase fresh items such as milk, eggs, bread, and meat from a few local stores that she has developed a relationship with.
Darlene is excited that the local schools will be conducting food drives and is also looking forward to the Hinsdale Fire Department's annual boot drive, scheduled for Saturday, Nov. 30, in the Walmart parking lot.
Hinsdale Food Pantry is open Mondays from 8:30 to 11:30 a.m. and Wednesdays from 12:30 to 3 p.m.
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Guilford Cares Food Pantry - We also visited with Pat Haine, director of the Guilford Cares Food Pantry, in the Broad Brook Community Center/Grange Hall.
We arrived half an hour before it opened, yet already several people had gathered, waiting for their opportunity to enter the kitchen area and collect some basic provisions that they needed to supplement their limited food budgets.
Pat was joined by two volunteers, who were busy laying out the assortment of fresh produce that was available that night.
Shelving units held a small assortment of canned goods, boxed cereal, and pasta, as well as food in a small refrigerator.
Pat told us that the food pantry has been located in the Grange for the past nine years and that she and her volunteers serve 20 or so families each week. She told us that most of the people using the food shelf are single senior citizens who own their own homes yet have a tight food budget, along with individuals that are working two or three jobs, all at minimum wage.
In addition to running the food pantry, Guilford Cares supports the local Food4Kids Program, an in-school food pantry at the Guilford Central School.
Pat relies on cash contributions from Project Feed the Thousands to shop locally, and at the Vermont Foodbank, for meat and other perishable items. On the night of our visit, the only meat available was breakfast sausage.
Guilford Cares Food Pantry is open every Thursday night from 5 to 6 p.m.
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Bread of Life Food Pantry - Our final visit this week was to the Bread of Life Food Pantry, which opened to the public in March of 2018, in Vernon, just before the Massachusetts state line.
We met Warren and Pauline Clark, executive directors, and their team of dedicated volunteers, as they were preparing to distribute 35 Thanksgiving baskets, which included turkeys provided by the Vermont Foodbank.
This dedicated couple exuded warmth and grace as they showed us around the Fellowship Hall at the Vernon Advent Christian Church. Their commitment to finding the best deals available, along with their frugal and keen budgeting, contributed to a well-stocked food pantry and tables laid out with fresh produce.
Pauline told us that they frequently shop at the Vermont Foodbank but that they also take advantage of any low prices and sale items which they can find at the local grocery stores.
They expressed gratitude for donations of both a refrigerator and two freezers. They serve approximately 150 people each month, primarily seniors, families, and individuals with short-term disabilities.
Warren shared with us that the money raised from last year's Project Feed the Thousands campaign, which has sustained them all year, will soon run out, and funds from this year's campaign will be needed shortly. They are excited for this year's campaign and are also looking forward to the contributions of non-perishable food items that are currently being collected by the students at the Vernon Elementary School.
Bread of Life Food Pantry is open on the first and third Wednesday of each month, from 3:30 to 5 p.m.
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Visiting these local food shelves has impressed me beyond measure. The dedication of these volunteers is truly inspiring.
These three food shelves, although they are small in size, offer a valuable and much-needed resource to the people and communities they serve, by providing assistance to their neighbors when they are at their most vulnerable - all with compassion and dignity.