HOPE Holiday Shop is preparing for children in need
MIDDLEBURY – Helping Overcome Poverty’s Effects (HOPE) will reopen its in-person browsing vacation store next week after a two-year hiatus forced by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Located at HOPE’s head office at 282 Boardman St. in Middlebury, the Holiday Shop offers a wide selection of toys, books, puzzles, and other free gift options for low-income residents who might not otherwise be able to afford gifts. Christmas gifts to their children. Jeanne Montross, executive director of HOPE, said the store will likely serve around 600 Addison County children over the next month.
As always, individuals, businesses and places of worship in the region are providing key donations that will allow HOPE to provide the Holiday Shop tables with beautiful and eye-catching gifts for children from birth to 18 years old.
âIt’s a great community effort coming together,â Montross said in a recent interview with the store.
The organizers promise a return to “almost normal” purchasing conditions. While customers will need to socialize and wear face coverings, they will be able to choose gifts in person. This is a change from last year, when COVID-19 conditions required volunteers to pre-wrap people’s gift selections and distribute them through a window in the HOPE building.
âIt was a big challenge last year, because we didn’t allow anyone (other than the HOPE workers) to enter the building,â she said. âOne of the biggest challenges for parents with this was that they weren’t able to browse the books; it was huge.
Montross said she was ready to revert to last year’s holiday gift window transfer if the state imposed more stringent COVID-19 restrictions due to the Delta variant. Addison County has recorded 170 positive coronavirus tests in the past two weeks.
Another change this year, also linked to COVID: the store will not offer a lot of clothing. Just socks, underwear, mittens and hats.
Customers of the vacation store must have a family income below 200% of the federal poverty line. It is currently $ 53,000 for a family of four.
âA lot of our families are working, but not making a lot of money,â Montross said. âDaycare is expensive. They really have trouble with their household expenses. To buy gifts for their children on top of that, that money has to come from somewhere. Is it the rent, the heating bill? What is that?
âWe would rather they come to the holiday store for free gifts and then use their money for their household budget,â she added.
Customers should call HOPE ahead of time at 802-388-3608 to make an appointment for their shopping visit, during which they can select a number of games, toys, activities and books per child, according to Montross.
The holiday store will open on Monday November 29 and close on December 23. Hours of operation will be Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., and it will open on a Saturday – December 11, 9 a.m. to noon. Since many businesses won’t start their toy drives until November 29, HOPE needs to purchase toys to welcome the first visitors to Holiday Shop.
HOPE officials are trying to make it as easy as possible for people to contribute to the effort. They encourage donors to donate money, if possible, which the nonprofit can then use to the maximum. Montross explained that HOPE got an account with a wholesale gift provider, leading to some really good deals.
âI was really, really happy with the prices and the quality (of the merchandise),â she said.
Businesses in the area are once again accepting Christmas tree tags with holiday gift ideas for children. Each of the tags carries a child’s age range and gift suggestions, which the tag wearer purchases and delivers to HOPE or the participating business.
Montross said some companies just keep gift drop boxes, without using the tags.
Another easy way to give: go to hope-vt.org, where you’ll find gift suggestions. It’s as easy as clicking on the gift image and donating the amount needed to HOPE to purchase it.
Montross is pleased with the creativity Holiday Shop boosters show in assisting with the toy collection. For example, the Vermont Book Shop lends its purchasing power to the HOPE effort. Vermont bookstore owner Becky Dayton explained that most major publishers offer business-to-business discounts on bulk orders of books that will be offered as corporate gifts, promotional items, or donations.
âSome also allow us to use these special accounts for school orders,â she said. âWe have been taking advantage of these special conditions for years to offer substantial discounts to local schools and non-profit organizations. It has always been part of my personal mission at the Vermont Book Shop to support the community that supports us, so I do everything in my power to help community organizations like HOPE make new books available to those who want to. wouldn’t have them otherwise, and to work with schools to keep their businesses local without exploding their budgets. “
This means that HOPE will get its money’s worth this year.
Any savings will be greatly appreciated, according to Montross, who is getting sticker shock these days.
âI am concerned about supply chain disruptions and prices,â she said. âWe are seeing inflation. We will have to spend a little more this year.
Montross went shopping to fill in the gaps in the Holiday Shop inventory, and it was a challenge. She found that the prices for toys like Legos were 20-25% higher than they were last year, and it was harder to find some of the more popular toys.
At this point, the most needed items include large trucks for kids and toys for kids ages 7 to 12. Teenage gift cards are also in demand at stores like Old Navy, Target, and H&M.
Helen Haerle is a long-time volunteer for the HOPE Holiday Shop. It is natural for the role; not only because of her generous nature, but also because she was involved in the retail business for many years as the manager and then owner of the Lazarus department store in Middlebury.
Haerle was particularly involved in organizing the donation of gifts from the St. Mary’s Catholic Church congregation to the HOPE store. She will be one of several HOPE volunteers and staff who will run the store during its short term.
âI’ve always liked it,â she says. “It’s Christmas, and it’s time to give to others.”
Dayton has a long association with HOPE, as a member of the board of directors (and past chairman). She is happy that the organization can bring joy and help people through difficult times.
“Jeanne, her staff and volunteers are moving heaven and earth to offer families experiencing homelessness and / or poverty the opportunity to put something shiny and new under their trees or at the foot of their children’s beds”, she declared. âThe holidays should be a magical time for every child. I am very fortunate to be able to contribute to the efforts of HOPE to achieve this ideal.
Journalist John Flowers is at [email protected]