Standing by the garden members maintain, New Durham Democratic Committee treasurer Lorrie Drake (L) and chairperson Polly Wessel (R) hold a facsimile of the $500 check the group has donated to the New Durham Food Pantry. (Photo by Cathy Allyn) (click for larger version)
July 30, 2020NEW DURHAM — "It's important to support everyone in our community," Polly Wessel said, "especially during the pandemic."
In addition to being a New Durham resident, Wessel serves as chairperson of the New Durham Democratic Committee, a group that has been around since 1980, but which has grown steadily and more prominent in the past few years.
She was referring to a $500 donation from the Committee, commonly referred to as the New Durham Dems, to the town's Food Pantry.
"It's such a worthy organization," she adds.
This is not the first time the group has provided financial support in New Durham. Although one of its key activities is raising money to support Democratic candidates running for office, members have a long-standing history of giving to non-partisan causes.
"We love our little town, and will continue to support it as much as we can," member Ellen Phillips said.
The New Durham Dems donated funds to the Parks and Recreation Department for a petting zoo at the 2018 New Durham Day and a bouncy house at that event in 2019.
"We'll continue that tradition of donating to something for the children on New Durham Day," Phillips said.
When the Town was looking for volunteers to help with downtown gardens in 2018, the group stepped up to sponsor the plot in front of the police station. Last year, members cleaned up the town ball fields for Earth Day.
"We picked up tons of trash bags worth," Wessel noted.
In August of last year, the New Durham Dems held an outdoor fundraising event at the Miller Farm called Peaches and Politics. It featured an entire menu of peach-based food and brought in three presidential candidates to speak and answer questions.
Attendees had the opportunity to share peach pie with Andrew Yang, munch on chicken in peach sauce with Bill de Blasio, and hoist a cup of peach punch with Michael Bennett, along with a host of representatives of other candidates.
The event was a big success and there were hopes of repeating something along those same lines this year, before Covid-19 concerns canceled those thoughts.
"Due to the pandemic, we were planning to try an October event called Pumpkins and Politics," Wessel said, "but we've decided against any in-person event, even outside at the Miller Farm."
The group is considering several options, including a so-called "click and collect" bake sale, whereby members bake peach-themed or pumpkin goods to sell online with contact-free pick-up.
Wessel said her husband David will be attending training on virtual fundraising, so other ideas may be forthcoming.
Recently, the group has contributed to campaigns for US Senate, US House of Representatives, Executive Councilor District 1, NH Senate District 6, NH Representative District 3, New Durham resident Jeff Allard for State Representative, Strafford County District 3, and will contribute to the gubernatorial Democratic candidate.
Wessel said she has gotten involved in the community in order to try to "find solutions. When we lived outside of the country, I vowed I would get involved in a local organization when we moved back."
That's just what she did, jumping into the New Durham Dems and leading virtual meetings, even when stranded on the other side of the world for months during the pandemic.
"I'm a Democrat because I believe throughout my life the Democratic party has helped regular people," she said.
Wessel said her parents lived through the Depression and Democrats created Social Security and works programs.
"The party stands for inclusivity, helping people when they need a helping hand, and supporting education," she said. "A solid public education system helps people and builds a strong middle class."
She said her own experience bears that out, commenting that "My parents didn't graduate from high school, but they raised five children on one income and all of us went to college and graduate school."
Wessel said she believes the reason is because "we had a solid middle-class upbringing and great public schools."
As a world traveler, Wessel brings a different perspective to state and federal politics.
"I'd traveled through Third World countries before," she said, "but never lived in one until we were in Guatemala for several years."
She described the Central American country as "gorgeous," populated by "kind, warm, and incredibly hard-working people."
Most Guatemalans earn less than $250 per month.
"There is a horrifying contrast between the tiny number of people who are rich and everyone else. Twelve families basically own everything in the country and everyone else is poor," Wessel explained.
Wessel has worked with federal agencies and is "happy they do what they do. I want them to continue because I've lived in countries where those things don't happen."
She cited pollution controls as an example.
"The air is so bad, you can't walk down the street in Guatemala City," she said. "I wouldn't eat a salad in Guatemala. Here, in general, our food supply is safe. Government is all about keeping us safe, and I'm in favor of that. Regardless of income level, we need to be safe and a good government keeps us that way."
She feels positive about her involvement in New Durham.
"We'd love to have even more participants," Wessel said, indicating it is not necessary to attend meetings. "People can be added to the email list to stay up to date on minutes and work on just a particular project that interests them."
She said more information is available by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lorrie Drake, who serves as treasurer, said the group is putting into practice her beliefs that "we should all try to make the world a better place, and change starts at home. Helping our neighbors put food on the table, and beautifying the town by picking up litter and maintaining a town garden are some simple ways to show that we care about New Durham and the people who live here."