Guest after guest streamed through the door at Aidan Lamothe’s fifth birthday party in October, each with a gift in hand. Lamothe, though, was in no hurry to rip open the wrapping paper.
After all, none of the gifts were for him. He’d demanded as much.
Lamothe eschewed the temptation to enhance his toy collection and instead asked guests to bring peanut butter and tuna fish so he could make a donation to those less fortunate. Last Tuesday evening he did so, handing out four boxes of the items during the Capital Region Food Program’s monthly distribution at Associated Grocers in Pembroke.
Giving back is nothing new for Lamothe, who had asked for new and used toys to donate at each of his last two birthday parties. But after attending a holiday food basket program put on by CRFP with his mother, Jill Teeters, last winter, he decided to help out in a different way.
“I want kids who can’t afford to buy it to have it,” Lamothe said of the food.
Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are a staple for Lamothe. His palate has already developed its own preferences – strawberry jam is his favorite, he said – and he polished off one such sandwich in the back of his mom’s car Tuesday while waiting to hand out the boxes he’d collected. But the food items were selected because they are readily available and provide good sources of protein, particularly for children.
Teeters included a note in the invitations to Lamothe’s party encouraging guests to bring peanut butter and tuna instead of traditional gifts, but she wasn’t sure how much they could collect. In the end, they filled four cardboard boxes, each of which was handed to a different organization.
Even Lamothe was surprised with the haul.
“I thought we would get a little bit, but we got more than a little,” he said.
Lamothe and Teeters have always done more than a little. Teeters volunteers with CRFP and said she and her husband instilled a sense of community and giving in Lamothe at an early age. On the surface he appears no different than any other 5-year-old, spending much of the time Tuesday night excitedly displaying a sea shell someone had just given him and becoming decidedly less chatty when the assembled media – which included a television news crew – began asking specific questions.
But he already has a deeper appreciation of the fact that there are people out there without the things he has. So when he was moved by the holiday basket program last January, Teeters took the opportunity to ask him if he’d like to collect food for children at his next birthday party.
“I’m really proud of him,” Teeters said. “He said, ‘I kind of wish I had more presents, but I’m really glad we got so much peanut butter and tuna fish.’ When you instill it at this early age, they grow up to be people who give back to the community, and that’s such a gift.”
“It’s always fun to see it from a child’s perspective,” Elena Painchaud, chairwoman of the Year Round Distribution Program, said. “He was just so excited to be a part of it. It shows how hard it hits home that people don’t always get peanut butter from the cupboard like he does, or tuna fish, because it’s two of his favorite things. It was special to see him there.”
Painchaud echoed Teeters’s sentiment that starting at a young age often fosters a giving spirit into adulthood. CRFP’s biggest event each year is the Holiday Food Basket Project, and Painchaud – whose family has run the organization since its inception 39 years ago – has seen participating children grow up to become involved adults.
“A lot of families that have come in and started with us, you can see a generational change. People who came as kids are now coming with their kids, and it’s very exciting to see,” Painchaud said.
That enthusiasm was present at Lamothe’s party in October, too, as everyone brought something to be donated, and many guests got into the spirit of the day, wrapping the food items in wrapping paper or placing them in gift bags.
“I figured you go to 10 or 15 parties a year and you’re always running to Target or somewhere else, so why not use that $15 for something like this,” Teeters said. “I was happy with the generosity of our friends, because they know it’s going to a good cause. Everyone knows it could be any one of us that needs help, so why not spend the money on something for such a good cause?”
CRFP distributes food to food pantries, social service agencies and church groups in the Concord area 11 times a year, purchasing items such as peanut butter, breakfast cereal, pasta, soup and canned fruits and vegetables. Nearly five tons of food was distributed Tuesday night, approaching an estimated value of $10,000. Recipients came from Concord, Boscawen, Bow, Chichester and other surrounding towns.
The organization is 100-percent volunteer, and every dollar donated to CRFP goes to the purchase of food items.
Almost 100 tons of food is donated annually; 35 tons through the Year-Round Distribution Project and roughly 65 tons through the annual Holiday Food Basket Project.