By GREG RUSSELL, Register Staff Writer
Volunteer efforts during the past year on behalf of the county’s central food aid program will get their due spotlight this month.
A private banquet saluting those who helped Volunteers In Service To Others (VISTO) serve more than 13,000 county residents in need is set for Friday, March 22, at First Christian Church.
Volunteer coordinator Suzanne Yeager said this list includes 250 people, both individuals and representatives of other local agencies.
“We couldn’t do any of this without them,” Yeager said Thursday. “And that’s why we’re called VISTO.”
Yeager said those who helped VISTO during 2012 reportedly contributed an estimated total of 3,500 volunteer hours in the process of procuring and sorting donated food.
“We had phenomenal participation,” Yeager said Thursday. “Volunteers pick up donations, they keep the warehouse straight, they serve on the board of VISTO, do fundraising and they help with our ‘Backpack Buddy’ program. That takes a tremendous effort.”
One ongoing task among VISTO helpers is to organize whatever food the agency receives into organized bags of “staples” designed to feed a family of four for two weeks.
It’s a job in itself, Yeager said, and VISTO can always use more of those staples.
“We’re always needing the basics,” Yeager said. “That’s peanut butter and jelly, macaroni and cheese, tuna fish and spaghetti sauce and all that. If we don’t have our basic components, then we have to buy them.”
More in need
VISTO Executive Director Michelle Baldwin explained that, having had a beneficiary count of 13,059 during 2012, her organization helped 30 percent more Cooke County residents than during the previous year. Of that count, 922 of the recipients were children — participants in the “Backpack Buddy” program that sends children home with food packs that often include those “staples.”
The increase in need wasn’t necessarily bad news for VISTO, Baldwin said.
“If anything, the community has always risen to meet those needs,” she said Thursday.
But, she added, there’s no single and simple reason for the statistical climb.
“I know that our numbers jump during June, July, August and December, since that’s when the kids are home from school,” she said. “For a typical VISTO family, it really cuts into the budget.”
And in addition to job layoffs and cutbacks, Baldwin also cited rising gas prices or inclement weather as factors in a family becoming a beneficiary of VISTO donations.
“It’s usually never just one thing,” she said. “It’s a combination of things that people could not have prepared for quickly enough. A majority of clients — 80 percent — will come in fewer times than what they’re ‘allowed’ to. Which is a true indication that we’re doing our job: meeting crisis needs but not making people dependent on us.”