BRATTLEBORO -- What started out 19 years ago as an idea to help area's needy has blossomed into the largest annual food drive in southeastern Vermont and southwestern N.H.
George Haynes and Larry Smith created what is now Project Feed the Thousands in 1994 as a food drive with the goal of reducing hunger in Brattleboro. This year's drive kicked off on Friday.
"We had identified a community need," Haynes said. "There was hunger in the area."
Haynes said Smith, formerly of WTSA, reported on a story about Melinda Bussino -- a founder of the Brattleboro Area Drop In Center -- and one of the programs she was running for the town's less fortunate. He said Smith was amazed to see young families -- and not just homeless people -- in need.
Smith told Haynes, who used to serve as the president of Brattleboro Savings & Loan, about what he had learned and proposed starting a food drive. The two started Project Feed the Thousand (notice the lack of an "s") because there were roughly 1,000 people in the Brattleboro suffering from hunger at that time. Their initial objective was to fill one tractor-trailer for the people of town and they achieved about 80 percent of their goal.
The need has exploded since then, as has the operation. According to its website, Project Feed the Thousands now collects more than 25 tractor-trailers' worth of food and personal care items for countless people. That equals about 62,500 bags.
The Our Place Drop-In Center, the Townshend Food Shelf, the Deerfield Valley Food Pantry, the Guilford Food Pantry, the Chester/Andover Family Center and the welfare office in the Hinsdale, N.H., are now involved in collecting.
Haynes said participation from both individuals and companies has gone through the roof and he is very proud of it.
"It has exceeded all my expectations," he said.
According to a letter signed by Kelli Corbeil and Jeffrey Morse, the program's co-chairpersons, and Lucie Fortier, the Brattleboro Area Drop In Center's executive director, hunger is a hidden epidemic affecting more people than society realizes.
The letter states one in five Windham County residents is facing hunger. The town's drop-in center fed 19,362 individuals (16,519 adults and 3,113 children) last year. Forty-three percent of Windham County's school students are eligible for free and reduced-price school meals and 56 percent of Brattleboro students qualify. The letter also says 7,217 residents of this county receive food stamps, a 7-percent hike from last year.
The goal this year is to raise $100,000 in cash donations and the equivalent of 200,000 meals. Food can be dropped off at any of the seven food shelves in the area as well as local supermarkets and several town businesses. Money can be donated via feedthethousands.org or by sending a check, made out to Project Feed the Thousands, to any of the seven food shelves or the River Valley Credit Union located at 1 South Main St.
All monetary donations are tax-deductible.
Domenic Poli can be reached at email@example.com, or 802-254-2311, ext. 277.