ENOSBURG FALLS — On a cold Thursday morning this past January, dozens of people flocked to the Masonic Hall in Enosburg Falls. Inside, some sat in chairs, waiting in line, while others milled around the room, looking over donated bread, bakery sweets, bags of potatoes, piles of books and coats and walls filled with canned fruit, vegetables, juice, pasta, pet food and toiletries.
Volunteers organized items in banana boxes and also offered extras to clients. For instance, Tilde LaBelle, 76 – an Enosburgh resident originally from Germany – gave out hand-knitted hats to parents with children.
“I try to help the people,” she said. “I love to be here.”
The desire to help others is why the Enosburgh Food Shelf opened in the first place in October 2007, and it is why the organization’s once-weekly operation continues to thrive with only community donations and support.
“We’re just extremely lucky,” said Mark Sheren, on-the-ground coordinator for the food shelf. While the organization spends about $1,300 a month on groceries that it makes available to residents of Enosburgh and surrounding towns, it hasn’t needed any state or federal funding to buy those items.
“That tells you how much support we get from the local community,” said Sheren.
Kathy Gaston, who organizes all the food shelf paperwork, said that support comes from all corners: local schools drives, fundraiser hosts such as the Dairy Center and the Enosburg Falls American Legion, storage at Bates Farm Home & Garden, the Masons who offer the food shelf space, Hannaford’s Helping Hands program, free coffee from Maplefields, produce from Hartman’s Farm Stand of Sheldon, 25 volunteers from the local community as well as students in the Reserves Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) at Enosburg Falls High School, donations from McDermott’s Trucking, the Enosburg Falls Lion Club and the Enosburg Business Association (EBA), and others.
The EBA most recently, for instance, helped furnish more than 240 turkey dinners with all the fixings.
“Without the community’s support – particularly Enosburgh churches, businesses, local donors – it would not be possible,” Gaston said.
With all those donations of time, food, money and other needs, the Enosburgh Food Shelf can carry out its main mission: feeding people.
“We know that there’s a need, but I’m not sure people realize just how much of a need there really is,” said Sheren.
He added that the food shelf – which is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. each Thursday – serves about 225 families a month. More than 900 individuals have received food or other items since 2007, and those clientele demographics range, though Sheren said he mostly sees families, seniors, those with disabilities and low-income, working people.
About 60 percent of those clients are from Enosburgh, while the rest come from surrounding towns. Because the area is small and people know each other, Sheren said the Enosburgh Food Shelf maintains client anonymity and treats everyone without judgment.
“Even if it’s your neighbor coming in, it’s not a judgment,” he said. “It’s ‘hi, how’re you doing?’”
Gaston said, “We have really strived to make our food shelf positive.”
Angela Cooper, a 32-year-old Enosburgh mother of six who agreed to be interviewed by the Messenger last month, said that she feels comfortable at the food shelf when she visits once a month.
“They’re friendly, they’re non-judgmental, and it’s a great resource to our town,” Cooper said. “It stretches our budget that much further every month.”
According to Gaston, while some people like Cooper may use the food shelf to supplement their supply, others depend on the organization. January is a particularly busy month after the holiday drives and dinners are over, and the beginning summer months can be full “when the kids get out of school,” Gaston said.
Because there is a clearly defined need in the community, both Gaston and Sheren said more donations and volunteers are welcomed. They are currently looking for a freezer, for instance.
“We love everything and we love receiving it,” said Gaston.
With whatever it has, the Enosburgh Food Shelf will carry out the mission of serving its community.
“We always strive to do our best,” Sheren said.