Down economy doesn't dampen the spirit of giving in Pownal


Friday, December 12
POWNAL — While donations may be down and the need may be up, Penny Willette of the Pownal Food Pantry said the spirit of giving in the community is still active.

New this year is help from the Grace Christian School in Bennington, which instead of doing a Secret Santa program for themselves have decided to do a food drive which will benefit the Pownal Food Pantry.

The Mighty Foods Farm, a community-supported agriculture (CSA) vegetable farm in Pownal, is donating its extra root vegetables, such as potatoes, carrots and beets, to the pantry, Willette said.

"People have been incredibly generous this year," Willette said, adding donations were slightly down last year, and had been declining.

The pantry is still receiving help from its normal lines of donation, including the Pownal Elementary School. She said beginning after Thanksgiving, classrooms decorate boxes in which they collect non-perishable food up until New Year's Day.

Willette said a few days before Christmas the school's sixth graders load the food they have collected up until that point onto a school bus and deliver it to the food pantry, which is housed at the United Methodist Church in Pownal.

She said the children also help sort the food and rotate the food shelves, and are taught a few lessons as well.

Willette said people who use the food pantry aren't necessarily "poor." She said a family might have recently had a car break down, a parent lose a job, or some other kind of emergency where affording food becomes difficult. The children are also taught that the quality of the food pantry's items is important.

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"Nobody wants to eat out-dated anything," Willette said. "Don't give food you wouldn't eat."

The Pownal Food Pantry normally serves 20 families per year, but has taken on four extra in 2008, a number Willette expects to grow. Helping the pantry also is the Stewart's Shop in Pownal, near the Massachusetts border. She said the shop matches monetary donations to the pantry and distributes it over Pownal's other non-profits and charities.

The Solomon Wright Library on Main Street and the Discount Food Store along Route 7 are drop-off locations for the pantry, Willette said. She said the pantry itself is open every second and fourth Saturday, but for December will be open on the 13th and the 20th from 11 a.m. to 12 p.m.

The Pownal Spirit of Sharing is working well, its organizer Peter Hopkins said. Three years ago, he said Pownal had been involved with the Bennington Spirit of Sharing, but had decided it could run a program on its own and not drain the Bennington program.

Hopkins said the Spirit of Sharing gives clothes and toys to children in need around the holidays. He said teachers and faculty will identify children they feel are in need, then call their parents to ask if their child can be "adopted" by a staff member of a volunteer.

He said if the parent accepts, the staff member or other volunteer will purchase an item of clothing or a toy for the child or the child's siblings that are either too young or too old to be in the elementary school.

The items are delivered to the child's house during school hours, or some other kind of arrangement is made, Hopkins said, adding the program serves between 150 and 160 Pownal children.

He guessed the program has received about $4,000 in donations from the Pownal community, and said an arrangement has been made with the State of Vermont Agency of Human Services Department of Children and Families in Bennington to send people from Pownal seeking holiday aid to Hopkins and the Spirit of Sharing program.

Contact Keith Whitcomb at


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