Got lunch! Program kicks off first week of feeding children in need


LACONIA — Community members ranging in age from 5 to 92 rallied together on Monday to kick off the sixth summer of Got Lunch! Laconia.
"It was a great beginning to the summer, with a primarily younger crowd helping out at the start of this year, and lots of Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts taking on leadership roles," said Paula Gile, Got Lunch! Laconia, board member. Other volunteers who joined in the opening distribution included Mayor Ed Engler and Tony Felch of the Greater Lakes Region Children's Auction, which has helped donate over $100,000 to Got Lunch! Laconia since its inception in 2011.
Got Lunch! Laconia serves healthy meals to local children in the community during the summer months. The Got Lunch! Laconia program was inspired by local community member, John Walker, who was startled by the staggering rate of students on free and reduced lunches in the city of Laconia. With 60 percent of the students in the district eligible for free or reduced lunches, and many other families in need, Got Lunch! Laconia began in 2011 as a way to ensure children were receiving a balanced meal at least once a day. The services provided by Got Lunch! Laconia are available to any families with school aged children in the city of Laconia who fill out a meal request form.
The celebration of the start of this season was well attended by local volunteers, however the number of children registered for the 2016 Got Lunch! Laconia program, was slightly lower than the 657 that were registered in 2015.
"I would like to think that the lower numbers may mean that there are less children in need, but it also may mean that families may have not signed up for the services yet," said Gile, who went on to state that registration is still open to local families. Forms can be found online at or at the Congregational Church of Laconia office.
As of the start of 2016, there were more than 70 businesses and faith-based organizations that have partnered with Got Lunch! Laconia to provide the 120,504 lunches that have been served over the past five years. Direct support has been provided by the local food bank, as well as through a partnership with local supermarket Vista Foods, which ensures that local families can have access to dairy products through the Dairy Voucher Program. Got Lunch! Laconia is excited to share that additional partnerships have been established with The Lakes Region Agriculture Collaborative, which will providing fresh, locally-grown vegetables for distribution beginning next Monday.
Volunteers handle the production and distribution of meals each Monday morning between the hours of 8 a.m. and noon. Tasks for volunteers include packing grocery bags from the hours of 8 to 10 a.m., as well as the delivery of groceries from 8:30 a.m. to noon. More than 230 volunteers assisted with the delivery process last summer.
"Volunteers are always needed, and anyone is welcome to join us any Monday morning and lend a hand," said Gile.
According to Gile, assistance is also needed through monetary donations that help them purchase canned tuna and chicken, which have been low at the food back this year, as well as fresh fruits and vegetables. Donation forms can be found online at the Got Lunch! Laconia website.
Additionally, community members can support Got Lunch! Laconia by purchasing raffle tickets for a Sea­-Doo personal watercraft donated by Irwin Marine. Tickets are $10 each or three tickets for $25, and can be purchased at Irwin Marine, Vista Foods, All My Life Jewelers, Tavern 27, Sports & Marine Parafunalia, and Piche's Ski & Sports. The raffle drawing will take place on Monday, Aug. 15, at 8:30 a.m., at the Congregational Church of Laconia.

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With their bags full, Darlene and Peter carry food to their drivers for delivery for Week 1 of the Got Lunch Laconia program at the Congregational Church Monday morning. (Karen Bobotas/for the Laconia Daily Sun)

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Volunteers Judy Nelson, Xander Ainsworth, Tina Batchelder and Lacie Houle fill "Got Lunch" bags on Week 1 at the Congregational Church Monday morning. (Karen Bobotas/for the Laconia Daily Sun)

Gibson to be honored at LHS Band Alumni Day this Saturday


LACONIA — Over her 27 years as music teacher and band leader at Laconia High School, Debbi Gibson took a small band that was in disarray to large group of students that the community is proud to hear play at events around the city. In 1989, when she came to LHS, she said, "The charge that was given was to build a program." The administration trusted her vision, and she came through on that charge. Through her care and consideration for her students she came to be fondly known as "G," and through her enthusiasm and love for the program she was building, she forged one of the most tight-knit and respected communities in the high school.

Mandy Silver, Class of 1994, who's running the LHS Band Alumni Day this Saturday, recalls being an eighth-grader when Mrs. Gibson began her time at the high school.

"Because the band was so small", she said, "I was called up to be part of marching band."

The numbers were simply not enough to do a halftime show. For the band to become something the community could be proud of, not just the numbers but the culture had to change.
One of the first things Gibson started was Band Camp, a week-long event just before the start of the school year where new and returning students could come together to play music, have fun and enjoy each other's company. Gibson said one of the most intriguing things about being a bandleader is the wide range of students that are united through performing in symphonic and jazz bands at school. Even apart from socioeconomic and academic standards of comparison people choose to play in band for a variety of reasons.

"Some kids are in band or chorus because they just like to play their instrument or sing, some kids are in it because they love the camaraderie and some kids are in it because they want to get better," she said.

As a bandleader, Gibson has managed to cater to all these different desires and also have them come together as a group well enough to perform at a high level, gaining the respect of community members.
One of the ways the community support has become most evident is in the form of fundraising for trips. During her first year, Gibson took her students to the Dover Field Show simply to watch, and they all agreed they would like to compete the next year. Even though the band was still small, they received a huge ovation from the other bands upon the start of their first such performance. Once the band had matured enough under her guidance, she took them on out-of-state trips as well. During Gibson's tenure, the Laconia High School Band has traveled to Washington, D.C.; Virginia Beach; Colonial Williamsburg; Toronto; and Florida. "These trips aren't for who can afford it," she said. "They're for everyone."
In recent years, she has also started two festivals, both featuring current elements of our national heritage. One is a barbershop festival, showcasing a capella singing, while the other is a jazz festival, bringing that music to many who've never heard it performed like that before.
The accomplishments of Debbie Gibson are staggering, but more important is the positive energy and love she has brought to all of her endeavors at Laconia High School. In class, her personality is affectionate and effervescent, focusing on not just knowledge and skill, but joy as well. Kids are "kiddos" and you'll hear her refer to many students as "sweetie." The community that is band, with all the fun they have performing, has sprung from her heart.
The Band Alumni Day this Saturday invites all those who have learned taken band classes at Laconia High School, most of whom will have learned under Gibson, to attend in order to catch up with each other and celebrate Gibson's career as she retires. There will be free food and an alumnus will be performing with his rock band. It will run from 4 to 8 p.m. and be held on Jim Fitzgerald Field at the high school.

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Debbi Gibson led the LHS Jazz Band in a performance on June 2 for Laconia Rotary at the Belknap Mill. Gibson has retired after 27 years as bandleader, and will be honored at a Band Alumni Day this Saturday at the high school. (Karen Bobotas/for the Laconia Daily Sun)

Belknap County Sheriff’s Department to get raises

Health insurance costs will decrease, too, under new county contract


LACONIA — Employees of the Belknap County Sheriff's Department will not only see raises, they are getting a much better deal for health insurance.

The Belknap County Delegation Monday night unanimously approved a collective bargaining agreement with employees of the Belknap County Sheriff's Department.
The contract, which provides a 1.4 percent cost-of-living raise as well as step increases of 3 percent for eligible employees, will cost as additional $32,469 in the first year, but is projected to save the county $10,960 in the second year and $24,191 in the third year.
County Commission Chairman David DeVoy (R-Sanbornton) said that the contract, which was approved by an 11-0 vote of those department members eligible to vote, makes substantial changes in health insurance, which lowers the cost for the county, even though workers will no longer pay a portion of the premium costs.
Workers agreed to switch to a site-of-service plan over the current HMO plan, which, according to figures provided by county administrators, saves $1,471 on a single person plan, $3,259 for a two-person plan and $4,525 for a family plan. Single-person plan costs are reduced from $9,123 to $7,652, two-person plans from $18,561 to $15,302 and family plan from $24,989 to $20,646.
The new insurance has higher deductibles as well, $1,000 for a single-person plan, $2,000 for a two-person plan and $3,000 for a family plan.
He also pointed out that the changes allow the county to avoid the so-called Cadillac tax of 40 percent for those insurance policies which exceed certain dollar limits in each category of coverage and is expected to take effect in 2020. That would have amounted to an additional $150,000 annually, according to DeVoy.

Those who can switch to a spouse's insurance plan will be given between $2,000 and $6,000 to do so, saving the county thousands more than that.
The contract provides for an opt-off benefit for those employees who choose to make that switch. The single-person plan provides $2,000 in additional compensation, cutting the county's cost by $5,652; $4,500 for a two-person plan, saving the county $10,802; and $6,000 for a family plan, saving the county $14,646.
Roger Grey of Sanbornton, who served as a public member of the county's negotiating team, said negotiations were difficult but he felt confident that they had achieved the goals set by the county and the delegation, and made a good agreement for both sides.
Deputy Sheriff Steve Colcord, who was a negotiator for the union, said, "Both sides figured out what we needed and we got it," and said the added monetary advantage of the raises and reduced premium costs were a big incentive for workers to approve the contract.
It was pointed out that at some point in the next several months the commission will be asking the delegation to transfer $28,000 in funds to have money in the department's payroll account for the contract's additional expenses.
Delegation members asked many questions on the details of the contract but in the end agreed with Rep. Peter Spanos (R-Laconia) that "in the short term this is less expensive" and approved it by a 13-0 vote.