WOONSOCKET â€“ When those last-to-drop oak leaves finally give up the autumn ghost and talk around the office water cooler turns to turkey, it can only mean one thing in Thundermist City: Itâ€™s time for the annual Milk Fund appeal.
Founded in 1932, the charity drive raises money through a hodgepodge of community-based promotional events, from fun runs to celebrity dinners. The proceeds are used to purchase milk for needy children and the elderly throughout the Greater Woonsocket area.
Milk Fund Chairman Barry Mechanic says the goal of the 2013 drive will be, as always, to raise as much money as possible for the cause â€“ not so easy in an era in which charitable giving is growing increasingly institutionalized.
â€śMy goal every year is to raise as much money as possible,â€ť says Mechanic, a self-employed business consultant and former publisher of The Call. â€śWe seem to have more competition than we had in the past, but we just try to make as much money as we possibly can.â€ť
Last year, the Milk Fund brought in nearly $70,000 that was distributed to eligible recipients. None of the proceeds are carried over from one year to the next. The funds are distributed, as available, to five principal groups, which are, in order of priority, children of working families who meet certain income guidelines; children of families where a breadwinner has recently become unemployed or is deployed by the military; anyone over 60 with health or nutritional needs; children of families living on Supplemental Security Income benefits; and children of families supported by Rhode Island Works, the stateâ€™s temporary cash assistance program for the needy.
Family Resources Community Action Program handles the administrative aspects of determining eligibility, processing applications and distributing benefits in the form of redeemable vouchers.
Vouchers are filled exclusively at Liâ€™l General stores with products supplied by Garelick Farms.
Conceived in the midst of the Great Depression, the Milk Fund has resurfaced every holiday season in Greater Woonsocket since its inception, making 2013 its 81st consecutive year. But Mechanic says he sees the Milk Fund as something more than just a generic fundraiser.
â€śItâ€™s part of the fiber of the community,â€ť he says. â€śItâ€™s important for the people who get help but itâ€™s also something that brings the community together. To have a truly local charity thatâ€™s in its 81st year is so unique in my experience itâ€™s important to keep it going.â€ť
A core group of civic leaders and small business owners are already busy working to make this yearâ€™s installment of the Milk Fund a success. Radio station WNRI (AM 1380) has begun taking on-air bids for movie passes at Cinemaworld at Lincoln Mall and a dinner for four at River Falls Restaurant. General Manager Roger Bouchard says itâ€™s a sort of warmup for the busier roster of Milk Fund events thatâ€™s just around the corner.
â€śWeâ€™re trying to do a couple of these events just to bring in a little dough before the Milk Fund really gets started and get people talking about the Milk Fund,â€ť says Bouchard. â€śFundraising at Christmastime is very competitive now with Adopt-a-Family, the Salvation Army and all those other fine charities that are active in the community.â€ť
During the entire month of December, listen in to radio station WOON (AM 1240) for a daily on-air auction to benefit the Milk Fund. Chief operating officer Dave Richards carries on the tradition of selling off donated toys, games, and other goodies to the highest bidder.
Donorsâ€™ names are listed regularly in The Call for the duration of the drive, a custom the paper has observed for many, many years. Executive Editor Bianca Pavoncello says readers can expect The Call to support the Milk Fund with timely progress reports, publicity about upcoming events and other important announcements.
â€śItâ€™s a great and venerable tradition in the city of Woonsocket and weâ€™ll do as much as we possibly can to make the Milk Fund a success again this year,â€ť said Pavoncello. â€śAs the only daily newspaper in the community, we think itâ€™s important for us to be as active as possible in doing community service work in our home town.â€ť
Milk Fund mania reliably revs into high gear as soon as the Thanksgiving table is cleared, and this year will be no different. The Call will publish advance reminders of various events as they approach, but for those who want to mark their calendars now, hereâ€™s a partial list of events already in the works:
â€˘ Dec. 1, 8 a.m. The Gym LLC, 2186 Diamond Hill Road, sponsors a Run/Walk for the Milk Fund. The events starts at The Gym and proceeds to the Bocce Club, a distance of about 1.3 miles. Entry fee is $10. As participants reach their destination, there is a reward: free breakfast at the Bocce. Sponsors include state Sen. Roger Picard (D-Dist. 22), the Bocce, owned by Joe Gaspar; and The Gym, owned by Judy Sullivan.
â€˘ Dec. 2, Buenas Noches for the Milk Fund at the Burrito Company, 104 Cass Ave. Cocktails and dinner for $20 includes appetizer, fiesta salad, a variety of fish entrees, chicken Marsala and pasta, plus rice, veggies and dessert. Limited to 50 diners. Coordinated by Burrito Company owner Denise Sierra and hosted by Bouchard.
â€˘ Dec. 5, Italian Buffet Dinner at the Italian Workingmanâ€™s Club, 947 Diamond Hill Road, 5:30 p.m. Adults $10, children three to 12 years old, $6. Tots eat free. Raffles, prizes, cash bar. Food prepared by Chef Gary McLaughlin.
â€˘ Dec. 7, Fourth annual Boudoir Bingo at Athenaâ€™s, 640 Winter St. Games, raffles for cash and a gift basket, $10 per person. Space is limited. Register in advance by calling 762-6110, ext. 12. Ask for Robyn.
â€˘ Dec. 8, Breakfast at the Par-X Club, 36 Stanley Ave., 8 a.m.-1 p.m. Eggs cooked to order, with a smorgasbord of sides. Adults $8, children three to 12 years old, $5. Kids younger than three eat free. Includes a penny social, raffles and prizes. Tickets at the door. Chairperson is Sue Tessier-MacKenzie, who can be reached at 487-4136 for more information.
â€˘ Dec. 10, Christmas at the Pillsbury House, 7-9 p.m. Contribution of $35 to the Milk Fund gets you hors dâ€™oeuvres, refreshments and dinner prepared by Chef Gary McLaughlin. Tours of the house by proprietor Roger Bouchard. Piano music by Julian. Corporate sponsors include City Dental and Champs Liquors by Keyway. Very limited seating, so make reservations early. Innkeeper Bouchard and McLaughlin are hosts for the evening, while Chris Bouley of Merrill Lynch Wealth Management is the lead sponsor.
Also expected to take place in December, at a date still to be announced, will be Goodfellows Day. Members of several community service clubs will be collecting donations from motorists and pedestrians around the city. If your organization would like to participate, contact event chairman John Ward, president of the City Council, at 258-2020.
As usual, shopkeepers, taverns and convenience stores will display countertop bottles to collect Milk Fund donations from patrons throughout the holiday season â€“ another significant source of income for the Milk Fund, according to Mechanic.
Any new ideas for raising some dough for the Milk Fund? Contact Mechanic at 401-390-3610 or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. And even if you canâ€™t participate in a Milk Fund event, mail-in donations can be sent to The Milk Fund, c/o WOON Radio, 985 Park Ave., Woonsocket, RI 02895. Or you can always pass around the Milk Fund Bottle at family gatherings. Call WOON at 762-1240 and make arrangements to get one for your family.
â€śI took this charity over when I did because I thought it was as important for the community as the people it helps,â€ť said Mechanic. â€śI still believe that.â€ť
Follow Russ Olivo on Twitter @russolivo