Hartford-Norwich Holiday Basket Helpers

Making a difference in the local area is very important to me and when I was asked to help deliver Senior Fruit Baskets, I jumped at the chance to help and brought my two young children. I think my kids were 8 and 6 at the time and they still remember the faces of some of the seniors when they opened the door. I do! Pure joy and gratitude. The next year, I was asked to organize the Senior fruit baskets and the rest is history! I love helping our Seniors and organizing people who want to help our Seniors, too! Many Norwich families have contributed Raisins through MCS, sorted the cans, filled the bags and helped deliver the bags. The combined community efforts make the whole program successful year after year. Thank you, everyone, who has ever volunteered, sponsored or contributed to the success of HNHBH.

~ Megan Brendel, Norwich

Megan Brendel, HNHBH volunteer

As long as anyone in the organization or those who came before them can remember, Hartford Norwich Holiday Basket Helpers has been helping to bring joy to the children and seniors in these communities. HNHBH works to provide support for families, seniors, and individuals in need during the holiday season by seeking donations and sponsors to buy presents for children whose families may have trouble purchasing gifts, and donations to create ‘baskets’ for seniors and individuals who may otherwise be forgotten at this emotional time of year.

Every Fall, HNHBH receives referrals of children from schools, religious and other community groups from Norwich and Hartford. Their parents are asked to list three clothing items and two toys that their children would enjoy. A volunteer sponsor then makes the tax-deductible purchases, which HNHBH organizes and gets to the family, ensuring that the youngsters have presents for the holiday.

“It really is rewarding to know that you’re helping a child in your own community,” Clare Forseth, one of the HNHBH volunteers, said in a telephone interview. “Because you are helping Norwich and Hartford families, you know this is someone right in your neighborhood going through a very difficult time financially,” Forseth said. “It is a way for volunteers to help and for parents to ensure children will have gifts for the holidays.”

Last year, 108 kind sponsors, together with the many enthusiastic members of the Quechee Elves and the Riverbank Church, provided gifts for 427 children in 184 families during the holiday season. Thanks to our generous 88 donors, HNHBH was able to provide a food card to each family. Our organization also provided ‘baskets’ to 158 Hartford and Norwich Seniors: each “basket” filled with non-perishable canned fruit, collected by the local elementary schools each November. Fresh fruit that is purchased using donated funds is added, as is a handmade card, ornament (often made by local girl scouts and church groups) and a generous grocery food card so they can enjoy a holiday meal.

Loyal volunteer Kristin Close

Ensuring that our neighbors are helped and not forgotten requires months of preparation and effort by a small group of only 8 full-time volunteers. The volunteer numbers grow exponentially each year during drop off week, with dedicated people who return year after year to help organize the countless gifts and donations. Each year there are more and more families who seek help, finding enough sponsors for all the children is the most difficult piece to accomplish. For the past three years, the Basket Helpers have been overwhelmingly grateful by the outpouring of support from the Norwich and Hartford communities. For the first time in its history, ALL the children on the list were sponsored. HNHBH dearly hopes this trend will continue, but needs ongoing support. According to the volunteers, knowing that the efforts they put forth in order to provide the joy a local child or senior receives during the holidays, who would otherwise go without, is the greatest gift of all. It is the true spirit of the season.

To sign up to be a family sponsor, make a financial donation, to help us this Fall, or to learn more about the organization please visit www.holidaybasketsvt.org.

Ann Marie’s Story

Wine tasting benefiting HNHBH: Sophia Crawford, Clare Forseth, Laura Gillespie, Dan Fraser, Ann Marie Smith, Colleen Rozzi, Dave DeLucia

I became involved with Basket Helpers 18 years ago, I think I saw a transaction ad in the Valley News seeking volunteers. Making Christmas magical for our children was very special to my husband and me. When I learned about Basket Helpers, an organization that was trying to do the same thing for children whose parents could not, I knew I wanted to be involved. I started out volunteering to organize the gifts that sponsors dropped off and the food for the senior baskets.

Over the years, I came to be more and more involved as the need presented itself. I spent years cajoling friends and strangers at pick up at MCS to becoming sponsors and volunteers, and most are still involved to this day. It’s worth noting that the majority of our volunteers and sponsors are from Norwich and that The Norwich Women’s Club, Norwich Lions, Dan & Whit’s, and Carpenter & Main Restaurant have all been consistently generous to us throughout the years. For all of them, we are incredibly grateful. We are also grateful for the many boxes of raisins collected from MCS students over the years. I would also like to make a special mention of thanks to my friend Megan Brendel who, about 10 years ago, had been volunteering with HNHBH and completely took over the entire Senior food basket part of Basket Helpers.

Working with Basket Helpers has been both enormously rewarding and challenging. I have found the biggest challenge to be finding enough sponsors each year for all the children in the program. For the past three years we have been able to match a sponsor to every child in the program, and that was a first for us, something we could never have done without the tremendous outpouring of generosity from our Norwich community. The reward is knowing that the children in the program will have the type of positive memories and feelings of holiday magic my own children have, of Christmas. That we as a community have done our best to take care of each other, to make sure that all the children in Norwich experience the magic and joy of the season, and that our seniors are not forgotten, is very powerful and emotional to me.  ~ Ann Marie Smith, Norwich

Wine tasting to benefit
Hartford-Norwich Holiday Basket Helpers
Wednesday, October, 5-7pm, Norwich Inn