Dec. 15, 2011
By Phyl Newbeck
Tropical Storm Irene wreaked havoc on huge swaths of the state of Vermont, but what many people don’t realize is the storm affected people well beyond the river valleys.
Generous Vermonters have opened their checkbooks to help those who lost homes and valuables to the raging waters, but the downside to that generosity is that other charities have suffered. Jeanne Jensen, treasurer of the Williston Community Food Shelf, said individual donations were down by more than half during the two months after the storm: resulting in $4,000 less than it usually receives in donations during that time frame.
At the same time, the need for donations has increased. The food shelf, now in its third year, served 219 families and 565 individuals in November — including 22 new families.
“Every month we think we’ve seen the highest family visits only to have the number broken the next month,” said Cathy Michaels, president of the Williston Community Food Shelf. “The need has gone up,” she continued, “and we have more people coming in but donations haven’t risen at the same rate they usually do.”
Still, Michaels was quick to praise the food shelf’s score of volunteers, individual donors, the Essex Alliance Church and local businesses.
“There are so many generous people that give to the food shelf that it’s just incredible,” she said.
For his eighth-grade challenge project, Williston Central School student Samuel G. Thurston is collecting items for the food shelf. He set up a bin at Rite Aid on Cornerstone Drive, but is also willing to pick up donations. In an e-mail to the Observer, Thurston wrote that he will deliver the food to the food shelf once he’s received approximately 70 donated items.
Other good news for the food shelf is that it will receive some funds from the Vermont Food Bank, thanks to federal disaster relief donations. In addition, it has approximately 80 turkeys left over from Thanksgiving to hand out for Christmas.
The organization needs a variety of winter staples, however, such as soup, canned protein, tuna fish, ravioli and chili. The food shelf can also use donations of cereal, canned fruit, pasta and rice,
“We need hearty food with winter proteins,” said Michaels. “The need never stops. It just goes round and round.”
The food shelf has just begun its holiday fundraising with which they hope to bring in $25,000. Although $10,000 has already come in, it only has a short period of time to raise the additional $15,000. State Rep. and Selectboard Chair Terry Macaig, a long time supporter of the food shelf, is offering to match up to $1,000 worth of donations from first-time donors. Donations must be received by Dec. 31 to qualify for the matching grant.
“So many of us are so fortunate here in Williston,” said Jensen, “that it’s hard to believe we have neighbors who worry about how to put food on the table — but we do. These are working families whose children go to school with our children, retired couples and the elderly who have to choose between food, medicine and heat. The food shelf is here because Williston believes it’s not OK to let our neighbors go hungry.”
The Williston Community Food Shelf is open Thursday and Saturday, 9 a.m. to 11 a.m., and Tuesday, 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. Located at 300 Cornerstone Drive, and can be reached by phone at 735-6303 or through its website at www.willistonfoodshelf.com.
Food shelf statistics
• Largest month in three-year history: 219 family visits, representing 565 people, and 22 new families.
Year to date (as of Dec. 1)
• Served 1,901 family visits, representing 4,891 people.
• 69 percent of families are 1-3 people, 29 percent are 4-5 and 2 percent are families of 6 or more.
• The Essex Alliance Church has donated 53 rolling bins and 481 boxes of food.