BARRE — It was a case of all hands on deck on a recent Saturday at a Lions Club push to feed the hungry in Vermont.
Members from 19 of 33 Lions’ clubs in Vermont gathered at the Canadian Club in Barre to package 10,000 meals to distribute to food shelves around the state.
Established in 1917, the Lions Club is the largest service club in the world, with 1.4 million members worldwide, and celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2017. The Barre Lions Club began in 1938. The food program is one of five major programs for Lions’ clubs around the nation and the world — the others are sight and vision programs, diabetes awareness efforts and a disaster relief program.
Barre officials on-hand to help pack food boxes on Saturday included Mayor Lucas Herring and Democratic Rep. Tommy Walz.
They joined dozens of other Lions Club members from around the state to form a human assembly line to package, seal and box 10,000 fortified macaroni and cheese meals. The meals were purchased from Outreach, an Illinois-based food distribution service, at a total cost of $2,500, an average cost of 25 cents per meal.
“We found out today that every state in New England saw a decrease in hunger, except Vermont,” said Herring, who joined the Barre Lions Club last year. “So, Vermont is stagnant — we still have as many people in need of food as we did last year.
“If we keep having volunteers like the Lions come in and work on projects like this, this food will be distributed to the different cities and municipalities that helped out. Barre has its own boxes, so those will be handed out locally,” Herring added.
Herring said his last job for the Barre Lions was wearing a lion suit at the Christmas tree donation drive at Tatro Appliances on South Barre Street, selling trees for $40 each, of which $20 went to the Lions for its club’s vision program in schools.
Herring noted that the vision program recently detected a tumor in the eye of a young student in Calais who might have gone blind without the intervention.
Herring said it stressed the importance of preventative programs. “Preventative programs are much cheaper and can correct things more quickly,” he said.
Walz added that it was the second time in the last three years that the vision program had found a student with eye disease that might have otherwise gone undetected.
“Three years ago, there was another little girl, a pre-schooler in Barre, who had a degenerative eye disease,” Waltz said. “Her parents had no idea there was anything wrong, and luckily it was diagnosed in time so it could be treated.
“She would have gone blind if this problem hadn’t been found. So, those are truly great stories,” Walz added.
“Lions are probably a very well-kept secret, unfortunately,” Waltz said. “We do good works. The primary stuff we do is hearing and vision programs. We’ve done a bunch of other things in Barre: we’ve helped people who’ve had a fire at home; we build wheelchair ramps for people at home; and at Christmas time we help provide food and toys.”
Walz noted that the Barre Lions Club vision program also extends to helping low-income people obtain eyeglasses. The club also collects old eyeglasses to distribute to developing countries. The club’s hearing program also helps to pay for the cost of refurbishing old hearing aids to be redistributed to low-income people who can’t afford them. The club has also helped gather food, clothing and supplies for the victims in disaster zones in the country, Walz added.
“But the hunger issue is a big one,” he said, noting that it was also a part of other, larger problems.
“We’ve had a slight increase in homeless people in Vermont,” Walz said. “There’s a decrease in how many homeless people are on the street, but there’s been an increase in the number of people who are homeless in Vermont. Homelessness also goes with other issues like mental illness and addiction.”
Lions members came from far and wide to attend the recent event. They included Molly Celani, who traveled 100 miles from Granville, New York, to help coordinate the food drive and returned with two boxes for her local food shelf.