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Plan to Collect Food for Upper Valley Haven Catches on in Norwich

  • Wayne Parks, right, and Dustin Taylor, both employees at King Arthur Flour in Norwich, Vt., unload containers of food to be donated at the Haven in White River Junction, Vt., on November 25, 2013. <br/>(Valley News - Sarah Priestap)

    Wayne Parks, right, and Dustin Taylor, both employees at King Arthur Flour in Norwich, Vt., unload containers of food to be donated at the Haven in White River Junction, Vt., on November 25, 2013.
    (Valley News - Sarah Priestap) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Shirlee Mitchell of Hanover, a volunteer at the Haven, checks recently donated items for expiration dates at the Haven Food Shelf in White River Junction, Vt., on Nov. 25, 2013. (Valley News- Sarah Priestap)

    Shirlee Mitchell of Hanover, a volunteer at the Haven, checks recently donated items for expiration dates at the Haven Food Shelf in White River Junction, Vt., on Nov. 25, 2013. (Valley News- Sarah Priestap) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Wayne Parks, right, and Dustin Taylor, both employees at King Arthur Flour in Norwich, Vt., unload containers of food to be donated at the Haven in White River Junction, Vt., on November 25, 2013. <br/>(Valley News - Sarah Priestap)
  • Shirlee Mitchell of Hanover, a volunteer at the Haven, checks recently donated items for expiration dates at the Haven Food Shelf in White River Junction, Vt., on Nov. 25, 2013. (Valley News- Sarah Priestap)

Norwich — A business owner’s grassroots fundraising campaign for the Upper Valley Haven has gone viral at a time when demand for food shelf supplies is growing.

Dan Fraser, of Dan and Whit’s, said he conceived the idea to donate a portion of his store’s sales to the shelter and resource center after a Haven volunteer came in to buy food to donate.

The store will donate 1 percent of sales from Dec. 1 through 19, up to $1,000. News of the Dan and Whit’s pledge spread, Fraser said, and now “pretty much every business in town” is in on the effort. Each business sets its own restrictions and donation level.

The idea has spurred other forms of donation, as well, including food drives and raffles. A long list of participants ranges from kids at Marion Cross Elementary School to folks at the senior housing complex.

“I can’t think of a segment of the population that isn’t involved,” Fraser said. “(W)e don’t have a committee, we don’t have a team, we have nothing. It’s just an idea we kind of had.”

In addition to raising money for an Upper Valley nonprofit, Fraser said the campaign is also meant to encourage shoppers to support local businesses.

“We have no big box stores in town, and we’re just encouraging people to really keep their money locally, and ... let us have the first opportunity to provide you with whatever you need for the holidays,” he said. “And then 1 percent … that’s a pretty big chunk of change that’s going to the Haven.”

Norwich Bookstore is among the businesses participating in the fundraising effort.

“It is a circle, that’s a good way of putting it, and it’s an important circle, because people say, ‘I can get this cheaper if I go to a website,’ but there’s a high cost of ‘cheap,’ and that’s the cost of supporting nonprofits and schools,” co-owner Liza Bernard said.

Haven higher-ups, meanwhile, said they’re grateful for the support. Liz Verney, director of development and communication, said there have been “hundreds and hundreds of pounds of food” delivered in the past couple days, including many large shipments from Norwich addresses.

“I’m blown away,” she said. “I didn’t realize that it could catch on like that.”

However, she and Executive Director Sara Kobylenski said they want Upper Valley residents to remember that there are a number of area nonprofits who could use donations during the holiday season.

“We’re really appreciative of Dan and Norwich, and yes, the help is needed,” Kobylenski said. “But we would say that this is a time to be thinking about all of the needs of people throughout the community, not just people who get their services through us.”

Kobylenski said the Haven is seeing a resurgence of the steep monthly increases in demand at the food shelf that began in 2009 but started to slow down last year.

Demand rose sharply from 2009 through 2011, but increased less dramatically from starting in 2012 — until a few months ago, when the dramatic spikes in demand returned.

For example, about 1,100 households per month had been receiving groceries from the Haven, but that number rose to more than 1,200 for the month of October, and is creeping toward a projected 1,275 families this month.

Food Shelf Coordinator Lori Lounsbury said that while the food pantry is not empty, she has no “back-stock” of many items.

In other words, whatever is out on the shelves is what’s available, and is replenished directly by the next donations.

Several times recently, she was “out of stock” of particular items, including one instance, when she was out of pasta, which is “almost unheard of at the Haven,” she said.

At the food shelf Monday, she pointed to rows of shelves in the back room that are usually full of certain items — rice, tuna fish, corn, peas, milk, baby food — but which were either sparse or bare.

Then she pointed to a full wall of donations pouring in — many thanks to Fraser, she said.

“He’s like a god-send for us,” she said. “I actually want to go meet him.”

Maggie Cassidy can be reached at mcassidy@vnews.com or 603-727-3220.

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