Rotarian support will help create Christmas Baskets through the Essex Area Food Bank 

by Sylene Argent

For many years, the members of the Essex Rotary Club have demonstrated the giving spirit of the season as they dedicated their efforts to raise funds to support the community in a variety of ways. One of those causes is providing a large food donation to the Essex Area Food Bank each year to help its volunteers create Christmas Baskets for its clientele, ensuring they get to enjoy a holiday meal.

  Rotarian, Neil McBeth, said the Rotary Club of Essex is able to support the Christmas Basket program by hosting fundraisers – such as Catch the Ace, and with the help of a Rotary Foundation Community Grant and support from Dillon Consulting.

The Essex Area Food Bank’s Christmas Basket program offers those utilizing the service everything they need to enjoy a holiday meal at home. They provide a turkey or ham, potatoes, stuffing, clementines, veggies, gravy, cranberry sauce, cheese, meat stick, cake mix and icing, canned fruit, and even an apple and meat pie.

  In addition, each recipient will receive a $50 gift card for groceries. McBeth said the Rotary Club used to provide close to 100 dinners, but the Food Bank has cut back that number. So, Rotarians are able to put a little extra value into families who are facing tough times.

  Because of COVID, the Essex Area Food Bank is only taking County clients for the program, and plans to create 45 Christmas Baskets for individuals and families in need this year.

  Gerry Belanger, Coordinator of the Essex Area Food Bank, was pleased to help unload the trailer full of goods last week, knowing the items would be going to help provide a holiday meal for those who may not otherwise be able to have one.

  “Its awesome. All the years that I’ve been with the Food Bank, and going back to [when Founder] Eileen Clifford [was still the Coordinator], the Rotary Club has been super when it comes to Christmas. They have always been there. Their generosity relieves a lot of pressure, especially on me as I would have to otherwise find other ways to get the food items. It is such a big relief. I really appreciate them doing that. They do all the footwork,” Belanger said.

The Food Bank is now noticing its clientele numbers rising, after a dip when the pandemic began. Before the pandemic, Belanger said the Essex Area Food Bank was serving around 60 people on each of the two days a week it is open. When COVID started, the average dropped to 10 a week. 

When things started to open back up, the Food Bank volunteers noticed the average rise to around 20 individuals served a week. A few months back, the average rose to 30. On Thursday, Belanger noted, the Essex Area Food Bank had 51 individuals in for assistance.  

  He said Food Bank volunteers are finding a lot of single people coming in for assistance lately. Typically, for each person who comes in, it represents three individuals, taking family members into consideration.  

  The Rotary Club of Essex, McBeth added, has recently stocked the three local Little Free Library stations they maintain, including at the Essex Railway Station, the Essex Municipal Building, and Sadler’s Nature Park.

  He said there is a lot of selection for anyone who needs a book.