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Mill River Students Fill Holiday Food Baskets For 90 Local Families

Nina Keck
Mill River Union High School seniors Chelsea Congdon, left, Ethan Welch and Melissa Fay show off holiday food baskets they helped assemble to give to 90 area families.

Ninety families scattered across Clarendon, Shrewsbury, Tinmouth, West Rutland and Wallingford got an early holiday gift this week: a food basket with a turkey and all the trimmings. 

And they have local school children to thank.

At Mill River Union High School, seniors Ethan Welch, Chelsea Congdon and Melissa Fay were busy in the auditorium Wednesday filling cardboard boxes with donated cranberry and apple sauce, potatoes, gravy mix, canned vegetables and cookies.

Once the boxes were filled, they put them next to all the others that were waiting to be picked up in the school’s auditorium. 

Ethan Welch of Wallingford says that while the members of the school’s National Honor Society organized the project, it was very much a community effort.

“We had assistance from every school in the district, including our school here,” explained Welch. “All coming together to give to a greater cause, so that’s really what this is about. The community is a family, and you look after your family.”

Chelsea Congdon of Clarendon says this time of year can be tough for a lot of people, so being able to help feels good. Plus, she and Welch admit the project has been an eye-opener.

“It’s made me think of how grateful I need to be for what I have and how much I have compared to what other people have,” said Congdon.

“You never really think that much when you're younger, and you’re just, like, 'I’ll bring a couple items for the basket,'” Welch adds. “But you never really realize until you’re putting them together and you’re seeing people’s faces.”

Seeing how much the food helps, he said, is powerful.

While Welch carried a box of food outside for a woman with a baby, Dave and Pam Baird of Clarendon walked in to pick up their box of food.

Credit Nina Keck / VPR
One of 90 holiday gift boxes filled with donated food. Members of Mill River Union's National Honors Society organized a district-wide effort to collect and distribute the holiday food boxes to families in Clarendon, Wallingford, Tinmouth, Shrewsbury and West Rutland.

“This is a great thing,” said Dave Baird. “I’m on Social Security disability, and with the way the laws have changed, what do we get, $11 a month in food stamps?” he asked his wife.

“Sixteen dollars,” she corrected him.

“Sixteen dollars a month now,” he said, shaking his head. “It doesn’t go far.”

But, they explained, this donated food is a huge help.

“We’ll stretch this not just one meal, we’ll get three or four meals out of this,” said Dave.

“Even more,” said Pam, “because I learned how to cook the old-fashioned way, from scratch. But not everybody knows that, especially young people now. I can make a meal from nothing."

Lori Hoyt stood nearby, watching that exchange. She teaches family and consumer science at Mill River and co-advises the school’s National Honor Society.

“To hear grateful people, I get goose bumps in my legs, I really do,” said Hoyt. “We’re helping our neighbors, and that’s what the holiday season is about, and a big part of what National Honor Society is about.”

As they left the school, Pam and Dave Baird explained that the donated food would not only make their Christmas better, but the week after, too, since that’ll be the end of the month when their budget was the tightest.

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