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‘Helping Hands’ aids Toronto pantry’s efforts

WORKING TOGETHER — Volunteers, from left, Sally Porter, Virginia Stimpert, Paula Stackhouse and Amanda Foster stand behind some of the many canned goods they have sorted at the Helping Hands food pantry in Toronto. Stimpert is director of the charity, which provides an assortment of food to hundreds of residents. -- Warren Scott

TORONTO — Established in 2015, the Helping Hands food pantry is aptly named.

Not only does it reach out to hundreds of local residents at a time in their lives when they need a boost, but it depends on the efforts of many individuals and groups to serve those citizens.

Virginia Stimpert, its volunteer director, said November is a key time for community support, with local Scouts set to collect canned goods and other nonperishable food door-to-door and a holiday 5K run-walk held to raise funds for the charity.

Stimpert noted members of Boy Scout Troop 41, Cub Scout Pack 41 and Girl Scout Troop 3196 again will be collecting food left out on residents’ doorsteps on the morning of Nov. 13.

She said it’s an annual tradition that has been quite beneficial to the food pantry, with about 4,300 items gathered last year alone.

Stimpert said if past years are any indication, “This floor will be covered. There will be a little path for us to walk through.”

She added that Helping Hands will receive a boost from the T-Town Turkey Trot, a 5K run-walk held on the morning of Thanksgiving Day.

Last year the event drew about 50 participants of various ages who helped to raise $2,905 for Helping Hands, including a $1,000 match provided by J.E. Foster Funeral Home.

Amanda Yazbek, the event’s coordinator, said the funeral home again has agreed to match up to $1,000 donated by the runners and walkers, who are invited to contribute as much as they wish.

Those who donate $20 or more will be entered into drawings for more than 15 gift baskets and cards donated by area businesses.

Yazbek said the run, which will start near 408 N. River Ave. at about 8 a.m., is very casual in nature, simply offering area residents a way to express thanks for what they have and burn off some calories before partaking of the holiday feast.

She noted its 3.1-mile course is over fairly level city streets, making it a more leisurely run or walk.

Yazbek noted it had humble beginnings, with just eight participants and $200 raised in 2015, its first year, when its only publicity was word of mouth.

While they have gained some media attention and established a Facebook page, its organizers remain very low key about it.

Supporters can find information on its page at 6th Annual T-Town Turkey Trot.

Earlier this year Helping Hands received donations from Crossroads Christian Church’s Toronto Campus, which raised $1,038 from a cabbage roll and pierogie sale that coincided with the Toronto Art Festival, and the Toronto Coalition for Revitalization, which divided proceeds from the sale of booklets showcasing the city’s veteran banners among it and other local causes.

Helping Hands is one of four groups that will receive proceeds from sponsorships of luminaria lit during the coalition’s annual Christmas light-up ceremony this year.

Returning this year to the city’s Gazebo Commons on Third Street at 7 p.m. Nov. 23, the event includes the lighting of the gazebo’s Christmas tree and singing of Christmas carols.

The candles are lighted each year in memory or honor of a family member or other loved one. They may be sponsored for $6 each or two for $10 at Clarke Funeral Home, J.E. Foster Funeral Home, the Sweet Stop and Toronto Apothecary before Nov. 20.

Sponsors also may obtain forms for luminaria at the Toronto Post Office and Subway but must mail their payments with them to the coalition.

As president of Helping Hands’ volunteer board of directors, Yazbek said she knows the hard work put in by Stimpert and her volunteer staff.

Aiding Stimpert in sorting food brought to its Clark Street location are Paula Stackhouse, Sally Porter and Amanda Foster.

Since the pandemic, they have been setting out nonperishable food on tables for pickup just outside the food pantry’s door while distributing other food at its doorstep.

Stimpert said bread and pastries donated by Riesbeck’s Food Stores are distributed from 8:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. on Mondays and Thursdays, while large bags containing four or five packages of meat, assorted other food and toiletries, are provided on the third or fourth Saturday of each month.

She said they are packed to ensure everyone receives equal amounts.

Recipients are required to present a photo ID and utility bill, as verification of their residency. Those needing help should call (740) 317-9142 for information.

Stimpert said residents who come to the food pantry are dealing with various financial problems, from unexpected medical bills to high rent.

She said when many businesses were forced to close because of the pandemic, the number aided rose from about 300 to 450.

Stimpert said there was thought of moving the food pantry into the Karaffa Recreation Center at the city’s north end because of the additional space there, but many of its clients lack transportation and are within walking distance of its present location.

While November’s fundraisers bring additional attention to Helping Hands, they are representative of the community support it receives through much of the year, said Stimpert.

She noted several local churches donate food or money, while Valley Converting donated several freezers for the food pantry to store meat and other perishables.

Yazbek said Torontonians have a strong desire to help fellow citizens in need, and Helping Hands benefits from that.

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