By Mary Kathleen Mehuron with help from Sharon Kellermann and Susan Bauchner
“There are two things that drive me personally: kindness and gratitude. Arranging Thanksgiving meals to donate to our community offers both. This is the holiday when we can sit down together and go around the table and say what we are grateful for. Even in years when we are suffering and struggling, and our Valley is struggling. This holiday turns us toward the things for which we can be grateful. I think that’s spiritually uplifting for everybody.” That’s Susan Bauchner, president of the Mad River Valley Interfaith Council, which collects and distributes holiday meals to those who need it.
One recipient wrote, “Thank you to everyone who donated and took the time to help make the turkey dinner boxes at the church. Without you all, I would not be able to provide a Thanksgiving Day meal for my family.” Many citizens have been in this position at some point in their lives. It’s just a fact. And many have had a rough go during the pandemic. MRVIC has intensely addressed food insecurity for some time now.
The Turkey Basket project has been ongoing for many years. Volunteers collect specific foods for the baskets. Turkeys and other food items are donated by local businesses and individuals. Cash donations for this project are used to purchase any additional foods needed to provide the makings of a traditional Thanksgiving meal for local families. Last year they distributed baskets for 75 families, feeding about 300 local neighbors.
Bauchner said, “The commitment of the volunteers touches me. Giving people the opportunity to help is important. We all want to be of service. It’s not only the people receiving food who benefit. It’s those who give of themselves. To feel they are making a difference. I love living in this Valley, where I feel held up. This is from personal experience. When my husband, Burt Bauchner, got sick and died, it was my neighbors who held me up. It’s not specific to Interfaith, but the council is my vehicle for being part of the helping community. When my husband was sick, I learned something. During tough times people inherently want to take some kind of action.”
For over two decades the Interfaith Council has been a steady response team for families in crisis. With Thanksgiving coming I wanted take time to know more about the organization. I reached out to council secretary (and good friend), Sharon Kellermann. She agreed to compile some important facts about their history. She and Susan worked on their response together.
“The Mad River Valley Interfaith Council (MRVIC) began as the Council of Churches around the year 2000. Originally, it was a meeting of local clergy. They added lay leaders to help meet the needs in the community. In 2006, the Council of Churches voted to change its name to Interfaith Council and invited the Jewish community to join as well as a member of the Muslim community. At times since then, there has also been involvement by Buddhists.
We serve the towns of Waitsfield, Warren, Fayston and Moretown. The mission of the MRVIC is to improve the quality of life for Valley residents in need. Our first project was to open the Food Shelf, which was originally held in the office of the Waitsfield UCC’s pastor, about 20 years ago and, subsequently, moved to its current location at the rear of the Evergreen Apartments on Main Street in Waitsfield. In the past year and a half, it was renamed the MRV Community Pantry.
We installed an air exchange system to make the space safer in order to continue operations during the current COVID pandemic. Shelving was reconfigured to make the area more accessible, and we added an additional refrigerator. As a result of generous donations during the past year and a half, we have been able to offer more fresh, nutritious produce and other foods to our neighbors. We are open Tuesdays and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to noon and Wednesdays from 4 to 6 p.m. Preordering and delivery are available. The program is volunteer run.
Mad River Valley Interfaith Council has also been a one-third funding partner, along with the MRV Senior Citizens and Community Fund, of our local Free Wheelin' program since its inception. Over the years we have helped send children to summer camp, and we have funded healthy snacks at our local day care summer programs.
Donations throughout the year allow us to offer emergency help with items such as rent, utilities, gas and more. Should you be in need of our assistance, the process is very simple. Just contact any of our local clergy.
Joys of the Season is our holiday gift program. We obtain information from the elementary schools and clergy about the number of families who financially have difficulty purchasing presents for their children and the number of children in each family. They are given vouchers that can be used at participating stores. We then reimburse the stores. So, the children get presents, and the local stores get more business. We’re able to bring some joy to over 100 children each year.
If you wish to help us continue our programs, please send a check to Mad River Valley Interfaith Council, P. O. Box 342, Waitsfield, VT 05673.”
As now is the time of year to reflect on what we are grateful for, the Mad River Valley Interfaith Council is an organization I personally treasure. But it’s not the only organization that helps our citizens. I am grateful to live in a community that takes care of its own.
I will attempt to conclude with an Irish blessing, though it’s been a long time since I lived near the old folks back in the neighborhood. I may be paraphrasing and merging some elements. But it goes something like this:
May your neighbors respect you,
Trouble neglect you,
The angels protect you,
And heaven accept you.
May your pockets be heavy,
and your heart be light,
May good luck pursue you,
each morning and night.
All blessings to you friends. Happy Thanksgiving from my family to yours. Sure hope everyone enjoys their feast.