• Sat. Dec 2nd, 2023

Food For the Hungry

Because So Much Is Riding On Your Food For the Hungry

Valley News – Raffled turkeys, food-insecure kids and compost-munching microbes: The many sides of the Thanksgiving feast

In the community hall of St. Joseph Catholic Church in Claremont, a prize wheel that has been dormant for several years finally began to spin again on Thursday evening. And with it, a decades-old church fundraiser — St. Joseph’s annual turkey raffle — was back in motion.

The history of the raffle dates so far back that not even the church’s longest-active parishioners remember the exact year it began. It’s thought to have originated in the early 1980s under the church’s longtime pastor, the late Rev. Stanley Piwowar, who was more commonly known as Father Stan.

Turkey raffles, typically held as a precursor to Thanksgiving, raffle off turkeys and other prizes, often holiday staples, to raise money for nonprofit organizations. For St. Joseph parishioners, the raffle is also about community and socialization.

“It brings people together,” said Ron Gilbert, one of the raffle organizers. “People have a really good chance of getting a turkey. It’s a lot of fun.”

St. Joseph’s raffled off 52 turkeys, which they purchased from Hannaford Supermarket in Claremont at a discounted price. The supermarket also included an 11.5-pound ham, which St. Joseph’s raffled off separately as a grand door prize.

“Hannaford gave us a (generous) deal,” said raffle co-organizer Russell “Rusty” Fowler, of Newport. “They have been really good to us and the church.”

St. Joe’s, which was built by immigrants in 1925, has strong ties to Claremont’s Polish-American community. The church today has close to 100 parishioners, some of whom are new residents who came to the area during the pandemic.

The church last ran its turkey raffle in 2015. It canceled its 2016 raffle due to a tragedy — its pastor, the Rev. George Majka, died that September while on vacation in the Dominican Republic.

The lack of a pastor combined with the restrictions later brought on by the pandemic kept the prize wheel still until this year.

The arrival of a new pastor, the Rev. Sebastian Susairaj, who also serves St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church in Claremont, “has brought our church back to life,” Fowler said.

Fowler also credited the parish’s strong culture of volunteerism, which minimizes expenses.

The raffle takes 90 minutes to two hours to complete, which includes the turkeys and door prizes. This year there were 11 door prizes, which ranged from gift baskets of food and quart-sized containers of New Hampshire maple syrup to a gift certificate for a prepared turkey dinner serving four people.

The turkeys were raffled off in rounds, with two turkeys awarded per round. The tickets for each round cost $1 apiece. Each ticket contains three numbers, giving the ticket holder three opportunities to win per wheel spin.

Tara Fredette, of Claremont, sat at a table with her friend Heather Thyne, of Claremont, and Thyne’s 13-year-old son, Karson.

This was Fredette’s first turkey raffle, while Thyne has been attending raffles since she was a child.

“I feel they are good, old-fashioned fun and something to do,” Thyne said.

“And it gets us into the holiday spirit,” added Fredette.

Fredette and Thyne each had a stack of 25 $1 bills. While the odds of winning a turkey were favorable — there were about four dozen people in attendance Thursday, fewer than the number of turkeys available — the looming question is how much one is willing to spend on tickets.

“We are limiting ourselves to this,” Thyne said, pointing to her stack of bills. “When we’re through it, we are done.”

Turkeys range in price, with many brands advertised this year between 89 cents per pound and $1.50 per pound by supermarkets.

Proceeds from the turkey raffle will help cover heating costs this winter at the church. Fowler believes the event raised well over $1,000 based on his estimation of raffle tickets sold.

Patrick Adrian may be reached at 603-727-3216 or at [email protected].

School officials fight against student food insecurity

As residents across the Upper Valley prepare for their annual festivities with food, family and football, shopping and planning their menus weeks in advance, many don’t even know where their next meal will come from.

A few times a week, a staff member will reach out to Caroline Christie, a social worker in the Mascoma Valley Regional School District, about students who might be experiencing food insecurity.

Teachers are often the first to notice if a student isn’t buying lunch or bringing one to school.

“We have some teachers and staff who are really in tune if they notice they’re not eating lunch,” Christie said. “We try to address that.”

During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, federal and state aid for food programs was bolstered. For the first time, the four schools that make up the Mascoma district — Enfield Village School, Canaan Elementary School, Indian River Middle School and Mascoma Valley Regional High School — were able to offer free breakfast and lunch to all students, regardless of income level.

But this year, that funding went away, as it did for other programs that got a boost from pandemic spending.

“There was more, and people were actually pretty good at managing that, at using their resources and covering food,” Christie said. “If they had fuel assistance or rental assistance, they would use what’s left over for food. Now it feels to me that they have way less support.”

School officials and area nonprofit organizations, predominantly Friends of Mascoma, have stepped up to fill that void. At Enfield Village School, paraeducator Martha Doelle helps oversee the elementary school’s food pantry. Teachers across the district have snacks, including fresh fruit, granola bars, cheese sticks and yogurt, available in their classrooms.

“I’d say there’s a fairly high demand this year, higher than last year,” Doelle said.

Anecdotally, educators have noticed that some students show up with fewer items in their lunch boxes. Students are visiting food pantries in higher numbers than before the pandemic.

“The end of federal free breakfast and lunch funds means less calories are readily available to students regardless of income,” Kate Plumley Stewart, interim director of Friends of Mascoma, wrote in an email. “Breakfast versus snack versus lunch versus snacks is semantics when it comes to a hungry belly. Kids need calories to fuel their body and leave their brains available to learn.”

While Mascoma officials have been helping families apply for free and reduced lunch, they stress that it’s not just those with lower incomes who are struggling.

“Inflation has caused salaries to increase, but the income eligibility criteria was set in February, before our recent inflation,” Leah Wheelan, principal at Canaan Elementary School, wrote in an email. “This has caused a number of our families to no longer be eligible despite the fact that their cost of living has increased as quickly as their salaries.”

Staff try to fill in the gaps where they can. Around 15 students in the district take part in a backpack program, where each weekend they are sent home with food from school food pantries. Around four or five kids visit the high school’s food pantry each day, Christie said.

Before the school year began, staff talked about how to watch out for and address food insecurity in students.

“We knew that food was going to be tough, and so we had a conversation before the students even came,” Christie said.

Since items are available in classrooms, students can grab what they need in a low-stress environment. There are no hoops for families to jump through for kids to get snacks.

“I think that the students feel comfortable asking for items or just going to peruse the items,” Doelle said.

There is an unfortunate stigma attached to asking for help, and educators have worked to dispel that. They also recognize that a hungry child is often indicative of other challenges families are facing. When Christie talks to families, she lets them know about fuel assistance programs and SNAP benefits, also known as food stamps. She helps them fill out applications that can often come across as complicated.

“I think there is a little hesitancy sometimes or a little shame, but mostly they’re open. And I think if you speak pretty plainly about it being a tough time and not at all anybody’s fault,” Christie said. “I think people in New Hampshire, particularly, are pretty proud and just reassuring families and students it’s a really hard time and out of their control and it’s everybody’s job to make sure our community is taken care of, not just their mom or dad or grandparents.”

Liz Sauchelli can be reached at [email protected] or 603-727-3221.

Composting initiative brings the feast full circle

A well-laden Thanksgiving table for a group of microbes in a compost pile might look something like pumpkin innards, egg shells and pizza crusts — dietary restrictions notwithstanding.

Two Hartford businesses have paired up to make the most of the cells’ feast.

Willow Tree Community Compost was started in 2019 by Wilder resident Jen Murphy as a door-to-door compost retrieval service with the goal of keeping “compost local.” Her business took off, with home composters in Hartford Village, Wilder, Quechee and White River Junction signing up for her $28 weekly pickup (she also has a number of other service options).

Demand increased after Vermont passed a law in 2020 that banned food scraps from landfills. As residents turned to Murphy for help, she found herself with more waste than she had the space to deal with herself.

So Murphy made lemonade out of lemon peels.

Now, the dinner detritus gathered by her customers in their Willow Tree-branded plastic buckets make up two-thirds of the compost generated at Sunrise Farm, which accounts for all of the farm’s fertilizer needs.

“Sunrise provides food for so many people in this area,” Murphy said. “With this local composting, we’re still keeping it in our town rather than some of the composting businesses that are shipping that resource far away.”

Sunrise owner Chuck Wooster, a former Hartford Selectboard member, also saw the partnership as a way to stick closer to the spirit of a community food system.

Before they had home-grown plant fuel, his vegetable and mixed-livestock farm purchased bagged fertilizer, which is expensive and not totally in keeping with an organic ethos.

“The whole idea of organic is that you’re trying to feed the soil well, and you use that soil to grow good vegetables,” Wooster said. “We’re getting back on track.”

When the raw food scraps are delivered to Sunrise from Murphy (the rest comes from the farm’s CSA members), they get quickly mixed and covered with wood chips from local tree businesses, including Henderson’s, Bartlett Tree and Davey Tree. Native wood protects native food waste, shielding it from wind, keeping the odor down and jump-starting the composting process.

Under the protective layer, microorganisms break down the organic waste into smaller parts, creating a humus rich in nutrients like nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium.

Composting without a controlled air source results in a volatile pile of food scraps: The compost heats up quickly from the microbial activity, and temperatures within the pile can rise as high as 100 to 150 degrees. Wooster rests his pile over an aerated pipe.

Then, every two weeks the pile gets remixed to make sure “it’s the right blend of wet and dry, green and brown,” Wooster said. But eventually, just leaving the compost alone after all that tinkering equalizes the temperature and moves the composting process along faster.

Wooster and Murphy’s tag-team idea got a boost from local nonprofit Vital Communities. With crowdfunding help from the White River Junction-based organization, Wooster raised enough money to build the structure that would house his compost pile, and Murphy could buy additional buckets and put more money back into her business.

With the same resourceful eye that the pair bring to their trash cans, Wooster saw the facility that would house the compost from wind and rain as an opportunity for another green initiative. The building, hammered into life from scratch, was constructed solar panel-ready. What Wooster calls “the carbon management facility” now provides for 85% of the electricity required on the farm.

The solar panels on the pitched-southern facing roof keep carbon out of the atmosphere, and the rotting pile under its eaves keeps carbon down in the soil.

“Coming out of this winter we should have a pretty good pile,” Wooster said. ”We can use everything we’re making, and we’d be happy to have even more.”

Frances Mize is a Report for America corps member. She can be reached at [email protected] or 603-727-3242.


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