Annual drive benefits 7 local pantries

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BENNINGTON —
Honoring the spirit of Martin Luther King Jr., community members and the Green Mountain RSVP of Bennington County worked together Saturday to help fill the shelves of local food pantries for the needy.

Fourteen hundred pounds of food were collected during the RSVP's annual "Stuff the Bus" food drive in the parking lot of the Price Chopper supermarket here. The donations were packed into a Green Mountain Express bus, for distribution to seven local food shelves.

The bus held more than 35 full boxes of food that weighed about 40 pounds each, according to Cathy Aliberti, the director of the Green Mountain RSVP. The weight of each box gave an estimate as to how many people will be helped from the donations. Most of the donations were of non-perishable food, she said, such as canned meat and soups, fruits, vegetables and pasta.

"It's great to get out in the community," Aliberti said. "You hear stories from people that donate that say they needed a food pantry in the past, so they're happy to donate."

Aliberti and RSVP volunteer coordinator Lenora Volkmer helped fill the boxes with donated food, weigh the boxes and load them onto the bus.

Stuff the Bus was originally scheduled to take place during the weekend of Martin Luther King Day, but it had to be postponed when a winter storm hit the area. The event is held annually to honor King's vision of neighbors banding together to help fight hunger, homelessness, and poverty.

The food drive helped benefit HIS Food Pantry, BROC Food Shelf, The Kitchen Cupboard, Pownal Food Pantry, The Carpenter's Shop-Shaftsbury, the Arlington Food Shelf and the Green Mountain Christian Center. Donations were picked up at the end of the drive by each of the pantries.

About 15 volunteers helped throughout the day, handing out fliers in the lobby of Price Chopper to let shoppers know about the food drive and what donations each pantry needed. Volunteers were made up of those who regularly volunteer with RSVP, who were excited to be out and helping support a good cause, and students from Mount Anthony Union High School's Interact Club.

Some donors went shopping with these items in mind and later dropped them after they finished shopping, while others drove up to the bus and dropped off food. Those who donated to the food drive were given a reusable RSVP bag. They started off the day with 100 bags and by the end of the day they had run out.

"Last year, when we dropped off food to the Pownal Food Pantry, they were so appreciative to have things that weren't expired," Aliberti said. "Most of this food is fresh off the shelf, so they don't have to worry about checking dates, and they're very appreciative of that."

While non-perishable food was the focus of the food drive, they did receive perishable food like bread, and they planned on distributing these items the shelves that opened the soonest to ensure that the products would be fresh when distributed, she said.

Stuff the Bus was sponsored by the Green Mountain Community Network, Bennington Price Chopper, and the Bennington Rotary and MAUHS's Interact Club.

"This was my first time doing this event," Volkmer said. "It was really great to see how it all works the collaboration of everybody coming together to reach a mutual goal was really great."

The Green Mountain RSVP is a program for people who are 55 years old or older who are interested in doing volunteer work to help make a positive impact and to help improve their communities. The program helps people get connected and involved with volunteer opportunities. The organization is sponsored by the Southwestern Vermont Council on Aging.

To learn more about The Green Mountain RSVP, visit their website at www.rsvpvt.org or their Facebook page: www.facebook.com/GMRSVP/

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