ST. ALBANS — The Franklin County community rallied over the weekend, pushing the total number of Helping Hands boxes purchased for Northwest Family Foods, the Franklin-Grand Isle Community Action (FGICA) food shelf, to 5,195.
The purchases, which exceeded the 4,800 record amount sold last year, stunned Dana Rocheleau manager of the St. Albans Hannaford supermarket where the boxes were on sale.
When the annual sales of the boxes began Rocheleau was not expecting to meet last year’s sales, let alone exceed them, because the remodeling of the store was disrupting display space usually given to the boxes.
Rocheleau today described exceeding last year’s sales as “absolutely amazing.”
Boxes will remain available for sale through the end of the year, but a contest among Hannaford stores to secure a $3,500 donation for the local food shelf ended Saturday. The winning store will not be announced until Monday.
Early last week, St. Albans was trailing Carmel, N.Y. in sales of the boxes, but sales built toward the end of the week. “It was the people that were just coming in and buying,” said Rocheleau.
Three customers gave him checks for $1,000 to purchase boxes and the John LeClair Foundation bought 350, said Rocheleau.
Each box sells for $10 and includes a donation from Hannaford of about $2 in additional food value.
Nearly every customer seemed to ask about the boxes. “It’s never, ‘How are you doing?’” said Rocheleau of customer inquiries. “It’s, ‘How are we doing.” To Rocheleau, that ‘we’ is a sign of the community’s ownership of the Helping Hands effort.
The Helping Hands boxes make it possible for Northwest Family Foods, which provides food to residents of Franklin and Grand Isle counties, to remain open five days per week, said Robert Ostermeyer, executive director of FGICA, responded when he learned of final sales tally.
“Northwest Family Foods leans very heavily on the community for support through the agency of Hannaford,” said Ostermeyer.
So many boxes were purchased that Hannaford didn’t have enough actual boxes to keep up with the sales. Seven pallets of food have been delivered in addition to the boxes, said Rocheleau.
With a November reduction in assistance from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and the possibility of further cuts in the federal government’s largest nutrition program looming, food shelves become even more critical for those struggling to make ends meet.
Food shelves are facing their own challenges, explained Ostermeyer. More efficient ordering means that food companies have less unsold food to donate. At the same time, the federal government’s donations to food banks have dropped precipitously, according to national data.
“This is not a great time to be poor and hungry, but if you’re in a community like this it makes a big difference,” said Ostermeyer.
With the reduction in donations from the government and businesses, Northwest Family Foods is relying more heavily on the community.
Community members who rallied to the food shelf’s support included individual shoppers at Hannaford, the congregation of St. Paul’s Methodist Church, the Catholic youth group SAYMORE, students at St. Albans Town Educational Center (SATEC), Mylan Technologies, Inc., the Rotary Club of St. Albans, Chevalier Fire Protection, Peoples Trust Company, Vermont Precision Tools, and the owners of Food Science of Vermont.
The Hannaford store with the largest number of sales will also secure a $3,500 gift certificate for its local food shelf. The winning store will be announced next week.