Meals on Wheels fundraiser promises to ‘gouge' for a good cause


What do most people associate with the Super Bowl? Football, of course: Costly commercials and fabulous, forbidden food. The organizers of Gouging for Good, a Super Bowl Snack Sale are hoping for lots of big appetites to help them reach their fundraising goal of $5,000 to benefit Bennington County Meals on Wheels. The food sale, which will feature slightly overpriced (for the fundraiser), homemade items from chili to bread, snacks, cookies and other favorites, is to be held at the Second Congregational Church, 115 Hillside, Saturday, Feb. 1, from noon until 4 p.m.

Maybe in addition to your meal, you're looking for entertainment during the commercial breaks. What could be better than the ukulele you could win in the silent auction? There will be other silent and Chinese auction items to choose from such as a gourmet meal for six to be prepared in your home, and a punch card for nine coffee-and-bagel visits to Crazy Russian Girls Bakery.

Perhaps you just didn't get enough of your New England Patriots and have on your bucket list a trip to Gillette Stadium to watch them play in person in 2014. For one $20 bill, you have the chance to win a pair of tickets to a Patriots' game. Raffle tickets are available at many downtown merchants and will be for sale at the snack sale.

Most of all, no matter what you are after, 100 percent of the money you decide to spend, will go directly to benefit the local Meals on Wheels program. The push to help fund Meals on Wheels is the result of a budget shortfall that may force Executive Director Susan Fox to do something she has never had to do before; start a waitlist for people requesting meals.

Snack sale organizers Audrey Pietrucha and Becky Amos decided to use the Super Bowl as a vehicle for helping bridge the budget gap. "Five thousand dollars feels like a lofty goal for us, but such a paltry amount when compared with the need," Pietrucha said.

Fox was quick to comment how grateful they are for any and all help. "We run a lean operation, but we need people to be involved. We could do with more volunteers," she said.

For senior citizens hungry for a hot, well-balanced diet, the meal program is the answer to their empty stomachs. The meals are available to those able to make the trip to the café at the Bennington Senior Center and are delivered to homebound seniors. Seven percent of the total population in Bennington County is served by Meals on Wheels and of that number, 75 percent have their meals delivered to their homes.

It is a daunting task to serve the 51,000 meals requested this year, but one Fox and her able crew of assistants, cooks, kitchen help and drivers handle in a seamless manner. Fox, who has been executive director of Meals on Wheels for five years, explained that funding for the meals comes from a few sources. Bennington Meals on Wheels is under contract with state and federal agencies to provide a definitive number of meals annually. Any demand above that number is not funded at all.

There are 6,000 requests for this year that fall into this category.

Additionally, the federal and state monies pay less than half of the actual cost of each dinner with the contribution a mere $4.06 of the $9 outlay per meal. Recipients of the meals are asked to pay $3.25 if they are able, but the average client contribution is $1.23 according to Fox. This formula has resulted in a nearly $140,000 shortfall.

Fortunately, Fox and her team are resourceful. They collect food from local farmers as well as the Vermont Food Bank and plan meals according to what is available. Fox said that they had $81,000 of donated food last year which tops the $64,000 spent by the program.

"I took cooking classes in New York City from a woman who lived in Europe during the war and survived on tulip bulbs. She taught me to use everything," Fox said. She explained her group assembles after it learns what food will be delivered from the food bank and farmers and plans menus accordingly. Her belief is that "Good nutrition keeps our elders healthy and independent." To that end every meal is made from fresh food and provides three servings of fruits and vegetables as well as protein.

Fox described the efforts of her staff as those of "a service organization not just a source of food. We are serving the whole person," she said. To that end they hold dances and this year will be asking local elementary school children to make valentine cards that will be delivered with the meals on Valentine's Day. "This has brought some of the seniors to tears in the past," Fox said.

Fox will be at the Super Bowl Snack Sale and is excited to see local people involved in a program that is celebrating its 20th year of serving the elderly community.

"We are hoping that at 4 p.m. we can cross our goal line by handing over $5,000 to Meals on Wheels," Amos said.

"The people of Bennington are very generous whenever they see a need," Pietrucha added. "Let's expand ‘buy local' to include ‘give local.' Our community will be stronger when we come together to make sure our friends and neighbors are taken care of."

Alyssa Amos is a Bennington native currently attending Williams College. She interned at the Banner this summer.


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