Family to Family program says thanks to a generous community

George Balco of Tisbury presented checks totaling more than $1,750 to Betty Burton for the Family to Family Program on December 21 as the meal packages were being prepared for the distribution that afternoon. — Photo courtesy of Betty Burton

What a grand holiday it was for the Family to Family Holiday Distribution Program. For nearly a decade, this volunteer-run operation has provided the ingredients for healthy holiday meals three times a year — at Thanksgiving, Christmas, and in the spring — to families in need. This year, however, it looked like this young tradition might come to an end, because requests for help were up and contributions were down, and we were out of money. As coordinator of the program, I was sadly contemplating how to gracefully shut it down.

But Martha’s Vineyard is a generous community. First, the newspapers stepped up, helping us to get out the word that we urgently needed help. That was all it took. The Island came to the rescue.

Next, I received a phone call from Jane Chandler, proprietor of The Beach House in Vineyard Haven, who informed me that the Tisbury Business Association (TBA) was going to work together to raise funds for us. She outlined a plan for the various businesses to have raffles in their stores with proceeds going to Family to Family.

Not only did the raffles bring in funds, but because TBA had placed posters in their stores, there were often individual checks from families that visited the shops. The TBA itself contributed a check to the organization. Together, the Beach House, the Black Dog, Juliska, Timeless Treasures, Educomp, the TBA, The Night Heron Gallery and others raised close to $2,000.

While this was going on, I received a phone call from Lorraine Cottle, someone I had never met. It seems that a group of friends who call themselves IE/OV (Island Entertainment at the Ocean View) got together and decided they were going help out Family to Family. The Ocean View Restaurant in Oak Bluffs provided the venue. On their own initiative, this remarkable group organized an event featuring a silent auction and raffles of donated items ranging from cosmetic bags to a bicycle. All in all they raised $1,750. Since Lorraine was out of town on the day of our Christmas distribution, George Balco came by to present us with the check.

The Edgartown Firefighters Association sent a very generous check, and Martha’s Vineyard Insurance instituted a matching gifts program for their employees.

And these are just a few of the more dramatic responses. Donations came in from all over the Island, and from many of our off-Island friends as well.

The result? On the Friday before Christmas, at the First Baptist Parish house in Vineyard Haven, 21 volunteers cheerfully distributed holiday meal packages to nearly 170 Island families, serving close to 400 people. And our program is in the black, with a modest cushion. To me, it felt like a Christmas miracle, something out of the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

It is so heartwarming to know that a community saw a need and came up with creative ways to solve it. Family to Family, which is run under the auspices of the Vineyard Committee on Hunger, is a small charity, and we worry every year if we will be able to continue the project. We were very close to ceasing the program this year, but instead decided to take a leap of faith. I’m glad we did.

Betty Burton is the coordinator of Family to Family. Contributions may be sent to Vineyard Committee on Hunger, with the words Family to Family in the check memo field, P.O. Box 4685, Vineyard Haven, MA 02568.