BRANDON — For Beth Quenneville, 2021 was a year in which she didn’t feel as active in the community as usual, making it a surprise when she got an award for it.
Quenneville has been recognized as one of Vermont’s 20 Outstanding Women for 2021 by Hannaford Supermarkets and Big Country 98.9 WOKO. She’s been invited to a ceremony in South Burlington at the end of March.
“Honestly, the award took me by surprise,” she said Monday. “I don’t feel like I did as much volunteering this year as I have in the past so when I got the email on Thursday I was actually taken aback. ‘What did Colleen do now?’ is what I was thinking.”
Colleen Wright is Quenneville’s mentor. Both are heavily involved in the town’s volunteer community. Wright is with the Brandon Area Toy Project, under which operates Christa’s Totes, which Quenneville leads.
Christa’s Totes is named for Christa Quenneville Little, Quenneville’s sister-in-law who died from breast cancer in 2016.
“Before she passed away, in 2015 she was a counselor in a school and she came to me and was like, we passed out these food totes at Thanksgiving time and I want to expand on that. She was in a different district than Brandon, but she wanted to do something like that in Brandon where we can pack up food over long holiday weekends or school vacations for the kids in our community,” said Quenneville. “So we started kind of small. It was definitely a learning curve.”
After her sister-in-law’s passing, she and her mother-in-law, Gale Quenneville, began working with the Toy Project on Christa’s Totes, giving out tote bags of food to people in the Toy Project program. It also gives out Hannafords gift cards periodically to families in need. Beth Quenneville said since the pandemic, it’s primarily been using gift cards, given the difficulty in storing and distributing food.
“With COVID we were having trouble ordering the groceries we needed to fill the totes,” she said. “I don’t know if you can imagine 100 shopping bags but it took up most of my garage, so the last couple of years we switched to Hannaford gift cards which has been much easier to manage than 100 bags of groceries. So what we do is we hand them out at the same time the Toy Project hands out their Christmas presents for the kids.”
Quenneville said she and Wright have both attended Vermont Foodbank training sessions allowing them to tap the Foodbank’s resources to distribute food in the area. They helped run the statewide Everybody Eats program, then when it ended, carried it on as “Get It and Go,” handing out hundreds of meals per week from the Brandon American Legion.
“Colleen is my mentor so I kind of feed off her energy and I would love to be able to distribute more food in the community, especially working in the school I see there is such a need when kids go on vacation or kids go home for the weekends, I would love to be able to have the means to support those families that just need a little bit extra during those times when the kids can’t be receiving school meals,” said Quenneville.
Quenneville has lived in Brandon all her life. She’s married to Andy Quenneville, who helps her in her volunteer efforts along with their two children, Quinn, 13, and Peyton, 9. Beth Quenneville began her working life as a nanny and enjoyed supervising young children, prompting her to seek a career in early childhood education. She got an associate’s degree from the Community College of Vermont and now works as a paraeducator at Neshobe Elementary School’s pre-K program.
Wright said Monday that she met Quenneville when she was 4.
“Her mother and I were friends in high school and I watched her grow up into this amazing woman, and she and another kid that I watched grow up, Christa Quenneville Little, were sisters-in-law, and I loved both of them forever, and they wanted to start this project so how could I say ‘no?’”
Wright said Quenneville has been instrumental in making the local food distribution programs work.
“She’s a very quiet person, she’s a very shy person, but she is tough and she gets stuff done,” said Wright. “They’re a great young family. She’s so dedicated to her family and to her community and she’s just a great young woman.”
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