BELLOWS FALLS — It was pouring in downtown Bellows Falls around noontime Thursday, and a colder wind was beginning to fill The Square, but that didn’t deter Leroy Watson.
The Walpole, N.H., resident was bundled up against the wet weather and carrying a brown bag full of groceries for “Overflow the Opera House,” the annual food and fundraising event to benefit Our Place, the local drop-in center.
This year, Our Place made a request that cash donations would actually be better than bags of food, since Our Place staff can leverage their connections to buy more food for a $25 cash donation than a person on the street can buy at a local grocery store.
But Watson said he and his family had been donating to Our Place’s food drive for years, in large part out of loyalty to the Bellows Falls Opera House, which, he said, had been very supportive of his wife who is disabled.
“We try to show up with food donations — and cash,” said Watson, who in addition to the bag of food also put some folded money in the hands of David Billings, the new executive director of Our Place.
Louise Luring of Saxtons River is the current treasurer of the Our Place board, and in the past she had been president of the board.
She’s been helping with the Our Place food drive since it started — about 30 years ago.
Luring said the need for the services of Our Place has never been greater.
“It’s more demanding than ever, with the pandemic, and the price of gas and the price of food,” said Luring, who along with Billings and Amanda Reed, operations coordinator for Our Place, stood out in the rain in front of the Opera House, which is located in the Rockingham Town Hall on the Square, ready to take donations from passing motorists.
Later in the day, employees from both Chroma Technology and Sonnax, two Rockingham companies that are strong supporters of Our Place, were expected to arrive with large amounts of food and cash.
Reed said last year’s fundraiser resulted in $4,400 in cash for the organization and 3,400 pounds of food. She said Our Place needs non-perishable food and hygiene products most of all.
“I got several bags of potatoes this morning,” she said.
Broadcasting live from the food event was Keene, N.H., station KOOL FM, 106.7, with Peter “Fish” Case and “Radio Bob” on hand to get the word out and remind people to donate.
Case has been helping to raise money for worthy causes for years, starting with the “Load the Latchis” when he was with Brattleboro radio station WKVT. Case, now with KOOL, in addition to “OverFlow the Opera House” will help promote “Cans in the Colonial” at the Keene theater, another food fundraiser.
At the end of the day, the rain had stopped and the skies were blue and Billings was ebullient.
“It’s been a resounding success,” he said, noting that people came through with cash donations — approaching double last year’s amount. He said as of 3 p.m., they had received more than $7,000.
“They blew the door down,” he said.
Actual food donations were down to 1,500 pounds, he said, but that is what the organizers wanted to happen.
“This has been a resounding success as far as we’re concerned,” he said.
Billings said that if people missed Thursday’s event, they could drop off donations at Our Place, or call him at Our Place to set up a convenient time.
“People can drop things off tomorrow or give me a call,” he said.