Helpers of others help one of their own

| 21 Feb 2012 | 10:55

    SUSSEX-Harvest House, a Sussex Borough soup kitchen normally in the business of feeding people, recently got a taste of what it's like to be in the florist business. Harvest House is a non-profit organization that relies totally on donations and volunteers, except for one key player, Phyllis Bowlby. Bowlby, who is the kitchen supervisor and the organization's only paid employee, is critical to the daily operations of the soup kitchen. "When 30 to 40 people show up every day for lunch, Phyllis is the one making sure the guests receive a nutritional meal served with care, and she helps the volunteers to organize and cook every day," said Giovanna Villano, the charity's fundraising chairman. So when Bowlby injured her foot and needed emergency surgery that she had neither insurance nor personal funds to pay for, it was only natural for an organization whose business it is to help others to turn the tables and help one of its own. Without insurance and personal funds to pay for the procedure, Villano knew that Bowlby could use some help. Capitalizing on the holiday spirit and generosity of people, Villano and her fellow board of directors ran a poinsettia sale to raise money for Bowlby. Advertising it as Poinsettias for Phyllis, 750 plants were sold in just three days around the Sussex, Wantage, and Vernon areas. By simple word of mouth and notices pinned around town, $4,000 was raised which included an anonymous $1,000 donation. "I am so thankful for their generosity. Harvest House has always been good to me. It's an outpouring of love that is wonderful and joyful, but overwhelming at the same time," said Bowlby. Bowlby has been involved with Harvest House since the beginning days when it was initiated in 1997 as part of the Vernon Township High School Hunger Project. "A group of 13 teenagers started something with no idea what was in store for them," said Villano. The high school held a Hunger Project Harvest Festival to raise awareness and money for hunger causes. It also created the first annual turkey dinner in September of 1999. Their efforts were so successful that they won a national contest called Make A Difference Day and received a $10,000 donation from Newman's Own Corporation. After three years, the students saw a need for establishing an actual soup kitchen, and in October of 2000, the first hot meal was served at the First Baptist Church on Route 23 in the center of Sussex. Vernon High School students continue to raise money for Harvest House by conducting various fundraisers throughout the year. Bowlby, who is recuperating at home, plans to be back at work in the spring. In the interim, she is enjoying the cards and well wishes from the Harvest House volunteers and guests. Harvest House depends totally on the continued support of the community. "Our guests include elderly people with limited incomes, Vietnam War veterans and young families unable to find adequate employment," said Villano. "We are currently in need of financial support to continue to feed the hungry. The members of Harvest House and the people that are fed would appreciate any support that you could give." Harvest House is open Monday through Fridays, serving a hot lunch from noon-12:45 p.m. Donations are tax deductible and may be sent to Harvest House at P.O. Box 374, Glenwood, NJ 07418.