We've spent a lot of time this month exploring the different and creative ways Upper Valley people have engaged in giving. They gave their time, their expertise, their sweat equity, their money. It would be impossible to quantify the amount of giving that has gone on since the calendar switched to December.
Sure, you could add up all the dollars, and that would give you a very big number (we'll do that a little later in the month). But how do we describe the amount of mental energy exerted by busy mothers who remember to grab a jar of peanut butter and recall that the town hall is the place to bring it? At a fast-paced time of year, how could we begin to measure what it means for people to choose to volunteer on a Saturday morning or a Sunday afternoon instead of being with their families? How on earth do you count goodwill?
It seemed a good idea to go to the last link in the chain of giving, to see first-hand what all that giving leads to here in the Upper Valley. The beneficiary of the 19 Days of Norwich and Beyond is The Upper Valley Haven. On this Tuesday six days before Christmas, the parking lot was full of cars at 11:00am. In the entryway, people stood patiently to check in with a mishmash of volunteers and staff. The smells were of fresh food cooking. The sounds were of questions and answers, of helpful suggestions. Visually, there were signs saying things like, "Need a coat? Please take one!" and a man nodding in appreciation as he accepted a toothbrush and some toothpaste.
Overarching it all was a thick sensation of humanity, like a cloud of honey. Here is a place where desperation, confusion, ache, and worry will just need to wait outside, thank you very much, because inside, the name of the game is just pure help. If you want to feel someone else's relief, step into this entryway.
People were browsing the aisles of the food shelf, selecting fresh and abundant produce; breakfast cereals; baking needs; dairy products; canned goods. One soul out there gives 400 pounds of beef every month to The Haven, literally feeding more than a thousand people singlehandedly. There is an emphasis on healthy choices, encouraging a little oatmeal or an apple. 100% of people who come for food leave with food. Many more (as the image above shows) get food that is donated here. The spiderweb of giving reaches far into Vermont and New Hampshire.
In Hixon House Adult Shelter, where people find "a safe place to stay while making positive changes in their life," there was curry veggie soup and grilled cheese with spinach. A volunteer team of father and elementary school daughter were making the place smell delicious. The youngster helped her father prep the cauliflower, who said they were "having a lot of fun" getting the lunch ready for the guests.
A few hours later, children would descend on The Haven to make snacks, do homework, practice singing carols, and other fun, safe activities while their parents worked or got the services they need.
As people have given over the past 19 Days, it would be easy to assume they were giving in an abstract way much of the time: "It's for The Haven." But they know where it is going. At The Haven, abstract is about the only thing you can't find. Instead, you find concrete, visceral, life-affirming examples of where all that "It's for The Haven" comes home to roost.
Thank you for reading and for doing so much to meet so many needs in our communities.
19-19=Year 5 of the 19 Days is over...
Thanks to the extraordinary generosity of The Jack & Dorothy Byrne Foundation, all 19 Days donations will be matched dollar for dollar up to $125,000. Make sure to label your donation as "19 Days" in order to get the matching funds.
To make a donation directly to the Haven, click here.