Help fill the Holiday Basket Project boxes

Here’s actual proof that I put canned goods in lots of boxes at the Capital Region Food Program’s Holiday Basket Project last week.
Here’s actual proof that I put canned goods in lots of boxes at the Capital Region Food Program’s Holiday Basket Project last week.

The holiday season is busy. There’s shopping for gifts, decorating the house with lights and picking out the perfect tree to display in your living room.

But if you have a mere two hours to spare, the Capital Region Food Program sure could use your help.

Every December – with this being the 44th year – the program undertakes what can only be described as a monumental task called the holiday food basket project.

The project provides enough food for about 2,400 families to cook a holiday meal and staples that will sustain a family of four for a couple weeks.

Annually, about 1,000 volunteers take over the New Hampshire National Guard Armory on Pembroke Road to make it all happen before Christmas Day rolls around.

This year, the project begins Dec. 15 and runs through the day after Christmas, skipping the first weekend and the actual holiday.

If you’ve never seen the process in action, it’s a sight to behold.

“Every year I’m just amazed,” said Maria Manus Painchaud, chair of the project.

On the first day, all 4,800 boxes are put together and stacked, essentially to the ceiling of the armory. Donated food (about 10 tons worth) will be sorted and checked for expiration dates.

On Day Two, a quarter of the boxes are placed in rows and filled with things like cereal, soups, macaroni and cheese, and canned fruits and vegetables. That is what is called a standard box, and is the one that families will use to supplement meals through the end of the year.

Once full, the process is repeated until half of the boxes – 2,400, if you’re not keeping track – are full over the course of days two and three.

The Wednesday and Thursday before Christmas will be when the custom boxes are filled with apples, onions, carrots, instant potatoes, stuffing and poultry to complete a holiday meal.

The distribution is set up, and on Dec. 22 the 50 agencies the project works with across 17 surrounding communities pick up the boxes for people in their area. Deliveries are made the next day and on Christmas Eve, if necessary.

And they need help with just about all of it. Those interested in volunteering can sign up for a single two-hour shift or as many as you want.

“We could always use volunteers,” Manus Painchaud said.

It’s pretty simple, too. Go to capitalregionfoodprogram.org/holiday-food-basket and click on the link near the bottom for volunteer registration and then the big green registration in the top right corner on the ensuing page.

Enter all your information and pick your top three shift assignments.

You need to register by Nov. 30 and will receive an email one week prior to the start of the program with the shift you got.

“We try to give everyone their first choice, but it doesn’t always work out,” Manus Painchaud said.

The program runs 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. most days, although the first day goes till 7 p.m. and days with satellite pickups and deliveries go till 6 p.m.

“We really, really need drivers and deliverers,” Manus Painchaud said.

Sure, they could do it faster, but where’s the fun in that?

“We have to leave enough time so everyone has the opportunity to volunteer,” Manus Painchaud said. “We realize the importance for people to give back the their community.”

And as someone who volunteered one year, I can say that you definitely want to take part.

Author: Tim Goodwin

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