As the holiday season approaches, low-income Addison County parents may turn to Helping Overcome Poverty’s Effects’ (HOPE) Holiday Shop for free gifts for their children.
The shop’s services are available to families with an annual income at or below 200% of the national poverty level. Currently, this means that the shop is available to families with an average annual income of less than or equal to $53,000. According to Jeanne Montross, the Executive Director of HOPE, the shop will provide gifts to approximately 600 children this holiday season.
According to The Addison Independent, HOPE provides gifts through the Holiday Shop so that families can use their funds to pay for other items and not have to worry about their childrens’ gifts.
The shop, which is set up within a conference room in HOPE’s offices on Boardman Street in Middlebury, is festively decorated for the season. The meticulous layout spotlights gifts arranged by age group, with sections for stuffed animals, books, board games, toys and other kinds of presents. Montross commented that HOPE takes pride in its ability to provide gifts through adolescence, as many similar programs focus more on younger ages.
“Our greatest contribution to the community is that we are flexible and responsive, and our offerings are not limited by government requirements. We can do things that others cannot,” said Montross in a written statement to The Campus.
Those things include providing a range of family gifts — including coffee makers and towels. The towels are provided by a local church.
HOPE works with many organizations, Montross said. Among those organizations is The Vermont Book Shop, which uses its bulk buying power to support HOPE’s efforts to provide two to three books to every child — a piece of the Holiday Shop’s mission.
Per the Addison Independent, bulk buying has been particularly important this year, as HOPE has found some gifts to be 20–25% more expensive this year than in previous years.
Individuals also support HOPE in a variety of ways, from a woman who knits stuffed animals to various volunteers that organize the shop to a middle schooler that decorates and advises on current trends.
According to Montross, HOPE prefers “donations of funds online, but actual items are also very welcome.” Donations of funds are particularly important and useful because they can be leveraged effectively through bulk purchases and used to fill in gaps later in the season.
HOPE’s staff and volunteers have noticed particular interest in string lights among teenagers in the area, following broader national trends. Monetary donations allow for increased purchases of specific hot-ticket items throughout the season.
The shop, from its interior set-up to the gifts it provides to its manner of donation, has changed over time.
“The shop in its current form has been in operation for well over a dozen years. Prior to that, it was an effort for people to ‘adopt’ specific children. The current method of operation is much more efficient, and much more empowering to parents,” Montross wrote.
Montross maintained that all of the changes to the program had been positive — other than those necessitated by the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Last year our building was closed and we operated the shop remotely, with parents selecting from a list of available toys and books,” Montross said.” This year we are allowing people to come into the building to ‘shop,’ while being masked and keeping distance.”
While there has been a notable increase in the number of donations made this year as compared to previous years, most gifts are coming in later in the season than is typical.
Volunteers expressed optimism about the community’s ability to help members out and share in the generosity of the season.
The shop will be open Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. through Dec. 23. It will also open on Saturday, Dec. 11 from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m.