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Volunteers aid charitable services to help families through the winter

December 02, 2009
LAKES REGION — With the holidays approaching, it is a season for giving but also a season of greater need, which is why local food pantries, kitchens, churches and other organizations' volunteers have stepped up to the plate this year.

Reverend Pastor Carol Snow-Aster of the Center Harbor Congregational Church has one of the largest food pantries in the Lakes Region. CHCC recently opened a soup kitchen last February and has been busy ever since.

Snow-Aster said church members are only a percentage of the people who help to maintain the soup kitchen year round.

She said that individual families will come in on Tuesday nights and run the soup kitchen themselves at times, even families that have utilized the facility. Families can feel free to take an extra meal home as well.

"Volunteers are always welcomed. I am touched by the number of volunteers who donated their food, time, and money," said Snow-Aster. "A couple and their teenage son prepared everything for us last week. They wanted to show their teenager what this work does."

She said that visitors from all over the Lakes Region will travel with their families to eat at the soup kitchen, and that some come alone when in need of company and a warm meal. Many people give back after a meal with volunteer services, said Snow-Aster.

This time of year, it seems that more and more families are coming to the soup kitchen, said Snow-Aster, although she said she isn't sure if this is because people have realized these services are available, or because the need is greater in the winter time. She said she wouldn't know for sure until next year.

CHCC also distributed a number of food baskets for families in need last week, and they plan to send out baskets on Christmas as well. Although Snow-Aster said she has an abundance of volunteers, she is still looking for more funds to feed all over the visitors who come in on a weekly or monthly basis.

She explained that a soup kitchen does not necessarily just serve soup but full meals, meaning more funds will be necessary to continue on serving full meals to surrounding communities.

Beverly Charest from the Moultonboro United Methodist Church helps keep their 25-30 year old food pantry in order, which is completely run through donations and with the help of volunteers.

Years ago, the Lion's Club ran the food pantry, but it grew from a bookcase to an entire pantry, and the church took over.

"We get a lot of community support," said Charest. "Some use the pantry themselves and pay us back by running it that day. It is mostly church members, but volunteers will fill in."

Charest describes support during the holidays as "overwhelming" thanks to local businesses, clubs, and members of the community.

"The need is great. It is pretty gratifying when you have helped feed someone for a week. We have about 78 families that come off and on, and 50 that are pretty regular," said Charest.

She said about 200 individuals visit over a year, and that many of these people happen to have seasonal jobs, so they may only visit the MUMC during summer or winter months. Charest said it is great to see past visitors come into the pantry with new jobs and donate food rather than using the pantry, although she has seen opposite situations.

"Last winter was the worst. People that came in had never needed to ask for anything before. It would bring me to tears. It is devastating to them, but we are happy we had ways to help them," said Charest.

She said the food pantry also receives tremendous help from a supermarket in Center Harbor, which started a program for discounted, pre-packaged groceries. She said the MUMC received about 200 hundred filled grocery bags.

"People are very giving during the holidays, but then you get to January and February. A godsend will help us get through that," said Charest.

Church member Carol Robbins is a major food buyer for the pantry, said Charest, and she works to negotiate deals for the best rates.

"There are a lot of people who work hard on that pantry. There is no budget on the pantry, it runs on donations. Thirty-thousand dollars were donated last year. Some members give us $100 every month," said Charest. "It is just heartwarming the kind of support that we get."

Volunteerism seems to be up in Gilford as well. The Gilford Community Church sent out Thanksgiving baskets last week, while the youth group baked cookies last week for families, said Youth Director Scott Hodsdon.

Doreen Waitt, a member of the GCC outreach committee, organizes the baskets along with her husband. She sent out about 35 Thanksgiving baskets to families in Gilford and Laconia last week. She also plans to add non-perishable items to Christmas food baskets.

"We try to focus on macaroni and cheese, soup, peanut butter and jelly for kids since they are home from school (during the holidays). This is part of our outreach community program," said Waitt.

Waitt says the committee prepares food at the Salvation Army in Laconia every fourth Friday of the month. The committee now serves items such as American chop suey with green beans, and sandwiches and salads during summer months. Waitt has kitchen workers help out with meals.

Waitt said she also works with the school district to ensure that families and children receive baskets of food as well during the year. She said the schools will often donate the food items.

Donna Grow, coordinator cook for the Lion's Club Meals-on-Wheels program, said she requires a large amount of volunteers due to the amount of meals delivered to homes each week. Grow said about two to three volunteers help daily, but she has about 50 steady employees in all making and delivering throughout the Lakes Region.

"It is a wonderful thing. The volunteers are very considerate. One volunteer delivering food found a person who had fallen down and helped them," said Grow.

Since July, Meals-On-Wheels has served almost 10,000 meals, said Grow, including meals in the dining room of the Lion's Club. The Lion's Club also plans to provide a Christmas lunch as well, just one of the services Grow said she could not achieve without her volunteers.

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