Since 1983, Hartford-Norwich Holiday Basket Helpers has served vulnerable residents in the Upper Valley. What started as a group of friends getting together to support some families who were unable to celebrate the holidays has since evolved into a robust organization. According to Sue Pitiger of Norwich – one of the current organizers – it was Pat Stark, working for the Town of Hartford, who connected the Hartford community with the Norwich community and created a local yearly event. When Pat retired, Pitiger and others such as Sophia Crawford and Carol Loveland, continued the program.
What makes Holiday Basket Helpers a very personalized project is how families are able to define what their children need. With the help of local schools, a list of candidates is created; families are contacted and asked specifically what clothing is needed and what two toys the child would like. Details are important, too. Holiday Basket Helpers wants to get clothing sizes correct, and kids have color preferences! Pitiger asks families, “Does she like ballerinas?” or “Does he only like blue?”
Holiday Basket Helpers then searches for sponsors for each child, and after sponsors drop off gifts at Saint Paul’s Church in White River Junction, the chaotic fun begins. Sue relishes the busy atmosphere of the volunteers who receive and sort the gifts, making sure the sizes are correct. That’s the key, Pitiger says. No six-year-old wants a size 3T hoodie! “We rely on the volunteers to see that all kids get what they want,” says Pitiger. Families receive a gift card for food and other items. Holiday Baskets Helpers also serves seniors who have been identified through agencies such as Meals on Wheels.
December 10th marks the day when families will arrive at Saint Paul’s to collect their gift bags. A joint effort, Boy Scouts help distribute the bags and Willing Hands provide the produce.
The Holiday Basket Helpers find great joy in what they do. Families have expressed their appreciation for the program in notes of thanks. One former recipient is now a volunteer. Gratitude abounds for so many helping and generous hands – the Norwich Lions Club, the Norwich Women’s Club and the Quechee Lakes Elves, to name a few.
While Pitiger relishes the entire process, there are favorite moments. One is when “Santa” and “Mrs. Claus,” played by Jack Candon and his wife of Norwich, come incognito (in street clothes) to Saint Paul’s bearing gifts. The volunteers let out a knowing laugh at the sight of “Santa.” The greatest thrill comes when the last bag is securely closed and all is set for pickup. “It is a glorious moment!” says Pitiger.
Please consider becoming a sponsor or contributing a monetary donation to Holiday Baskets Helpers (HolidayBasketsVT.org).