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The Gift of Giving This Holiday Season

With the holiday season upon us and the new year right around the corner, it can be seen that numerous organizations run campaigns to provide a better December for those who are less fortunate. I had the pleasure to talk to two outstanding women who organize generous fundraisers and advocate for charities that change the lives of many citizens, children and adults alike.

The Inside Scoop is one of the most popular ice cream shops in Bedford, as their coffees and Purple Cow ice cream are irresistible.  I may be a little bit biased since I do have the honor of working with such amazing women, but one in particular has gone above and beyond for our community.  Hillary Rankins has owned and ran this coffee shop for over 8 years, and for the past 3 years, she has organized and ran a toy drive for children in need.  Every year, “The Scoop” loses one parking spot out front to make room for the giant storage container to hold the sea of generously donated toys. The Scoop Troop proudly displays these toy donations almost every day on their Instagram, along with sharing multiple promotions and deals to encourage people to donate.

These past two years, The Inside Scoop has partnered with the Recycled Percussion Foundation to bring a very happy holiday season to thousands of children.  Volunteers from all around the state gather donations from the numerous local businesses and restaurants, and will give a toy to any and every family in need on Christmas morning. With multiple toy drop off locations and stores like in the Pheasant Lane Mall, the Scoop stands out from all the rest as they are the only business to set up a full sized storage container.  The quantity of toys that they have been able to gather creates an impact on not only the receiving families, but also in our own community.

When talking with Hillary, she said that there is always a noticeable difference in environment during the holidays. “We run deals, all kinds of specials… but it’s not about that at all – and it’s clear that that doesn’t matter at all. People want to help and it shows as our toy box is full and ready to go to some amazing kids right here in our area.” She went on to talk of how the power of our community has allowed for so many children to have the joy of opening a brand new toy on Christmas morning, and it continues to grow every year. Although the achievement of such a successful fundraiser is an impressing feat, Hillary credits the people of Bedford for the great success of the toy drive, as “everyone comes together during the holiday season and everyone is happy to donate. We couldn’t do it without their help. We receive toy donations every day once we start promoting it. The people in this area are extremely generous.”

The toys will be picked up this Sunday, December 22, and I can proudly say that the storage box is almost completely full due to the overwhelming generosity of our town. You can follow the Inside Scoop on Instagram and Facebook to continue to follow their toy drive journey!

When researching local charities and foundations, one in particular stood out to me, and it is quite hard to overlook with their extensive outreach and impact within our community. Families in Transition New Horizons is one of the largest nonprofit organizations in the state of New Hampshire, and aims to provide shelter for the homeless and connect them with opportunities for their future outside of homelessness. With over 23 properties and 250 housing units across the state, FIT New Horizons offers not only food and shelter for any individual in need, but a sense of community “to help create their own success.”

Recently, I sat down with Michele Talwani, the Vice President of Communications and Marketing, to talk about just a few of the services that this lovely foundation provides. She explained to me how her job is to share the stories of participants in the program, giving a voice to the many victims of homelessness, and emphasizing the need for greater awareness. “People don’t think that homelessness affects them or is part of their community…The more that we can raise awareness about what we’re doing and the impact that we’re making, the better” When asked about her recent projects or fundraisers, she enthusiastically told me about a video that she helped produced, following the stories of 4 different participants in the program.  The deep and profound impact of their services is evident through this heartwarming film, as we see the gift of generosity in action. “It’s amazing to hear their story of where they came from, literally carrying everything they own, to where they are today because of the work that they did and their engagement with our program”

Families in Transition New Horizons provides not just a roof over families’ heads, but a path for a better future. “We provide the tools, it’s really up to them to use the tools, to create their own success.” They are not just providing a roof over their heads, but helping them create a better future for themselves and their family by connecting them with counselors and other participants in the program. The numbers don’t lie; as in 2019 alone, they have provided shelter for over 1300 individuals, served over 166,600 meals, and created longer term supportive housing to 470 participants. I asked Michele what the most rewarding aspect about her job was, and it was clear that her job not only improves the lives of others, but also improved her own self. “I want to work hard. Not that I didn’t want to work hard before, but it just motivates you. To hear kids in our lobby, or to go to the soup kitchen and see people eating and knowing that’s like their meal of the day. It makes you appreciate what you have, and makes you want to work even that much harder.”

One of the most unique features about Families in Transition New Horizons is that they run a profitable thrift store for the benefit of the organization.  100% of the proceeds go to providing services and shelter to participants in the program, and is a creative way to incorporate entrepreneurship into charitable work. When too many people were dropping off clothing donations at the office doorstep, Families in Transition opened OutFITters Thrift Store in 2002 to accommodate the growing number of donations. Ever since then, OutFITters has been able to provide clothing for many participants in shelters and profit from the general public when customers come in to shop. “Donate to us because it stays hyper-local. You are helping your friends and neighbors by donating to us.” Michele emphasized the importance of this business as it continues to help the organization grow and provide clothing to the many participants in the program. She assured me that if you go in to shop, you most definitely will not come out empty handed! You can check out their Facebook page linked below.

While the holiday season is full of cheer for almost all, FITNH gives participants a greater gift than any present under the tree. The overwhelming amount of volunteers during this time is extremely valuable to individuals, as some may have found themselves on the streets or in the woods just a year before.  Every single contribution is appreciated, as even the small actions of upkeep in the shelters and homes help the foundation tremendously. “For an individual or a business or an organization to choose us to donate their money to, we really appreciate it, and it goes a long way” The challenge that this nonprofit faces, along with many others, is that once Thanksgiving and Christmas have passed, less and less volunteers are willing to work. “I think that we just wear a lot of hats. I think it’s a typical nonprofit where our workload is pretty heavy, and we’re in this business. If we don’t [run] our business, we won’t be able to do our mission” Although it’s challenging to continue to engage volunteers year round, there are so many ways that we can help, as a community. “We make it really easy,” says Talwani, as donating the small items that we take for granted such as toiletries blankets help those who may not have access to general household items.

In learning about this life changing organization, it’s important to value the many things that we take for granted, such as a simple pair of winter boots and a coat to keep up warm in these harsh New England winters. Michele reflected on how this job has changed her perception, and how she works to change the perceptions of others too. “You need to be able to open peoples’ eyes in any community, especially at a young age, because you can give back…There’s a lot of different reasons as to why people are homeless or in need, and really, truly it could happen to anyone”

Currently, Families in Transition New Horizons is running their annual 2019 End of The Year Appeal, where anyone can donate to help participants have a great start to the new decade. To donate, you can visit the FITNH website here.

In light of these amazing fundraisers and organizations, I urge each and every reader to donate to any local organization this holiday season, as our spirit and generosity help create a better community for everyone.