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A Vermont Community Swamped by Flooding Enjoys A Bright Spot: Montpelier Hopebox Derby Brings Pure Joy


all images by John Lazenby

This summer 10-year-old Driscoll Sinnott of Montpelier expected to ride his bike, play the fiddle, and sprint after Ultimate Frisbees. Instead, the fifth grader joined other local children to raise more than $14,000 to benefit flood relief for their hometown with a “hopebox” derby that took place ten days after flood waters walloped the city.

“I felt really good,” Driscoll said, especially because he and the other kids weren’t initially sure how they could help. The Montpelier Hopebox Derby changed that.

“It was a big project, and we were actually doing something,” Driscoll said. “The cars ended up working really well and it was really fun.’’

Driscoll also stars in a related fundraising video that takes viewers on a tour of downtown Montpelier. It shows the devastation and clean-up first-hand: The piles of sodden sheetrock, ripped-out flooring, and flood-soaked furniture and merchandise forming walls of trash along the streets. He walks by his favorite taco place, bookstore, and the outdoor gear shop where he got his first bike, explaining that they are all shuttered. Everywhere he goes, the air is filled with the sound of saws, fans, and pumps at work with clean-up crews and volunteers.     

The video was filmed on Driscoll’s first visit to the downtown area after the flooding that wreaked havoc across the state and inundated Montpelier on July 10 and 11. As the camera follows, Driscoll narrates in a simple, direct way that is both touching and effective at conveying the scope of the calamity. A few times he can be seen trying to hold back tears. “It was a little bit hard,” Driscoll said. “As my grandmom pointed out, my face was kind of trying to keep it in.”

The organizers of the Montpelier Hopebox Derby directed donations to the Vermont Community Foundation’s VT Flood Response & Recovery Fund 2023 and to the Montpelier Alive Flood Recovery Fund.

Driscoll’s mom Hannah Reid helped get the project going. The Montpelier consultant had signed Driscoll up for a day camp at the city’s Wilder Arts Studio in which the participants were set to make classic soapbox derby cars. After Reid conferred with the director of the camp, Maria Arsenlis, they decided to turn the soapbox derby into a “hopebox derby” to benefit local flood relief. Arsenlis opened extra slots in her camp to help families affected by the flooding and to accommodate all the kids who wanted to join the derby. She also produced the flood video featuring Driscoll. 

When derby day dawned, it delivered a big dose of happiness. About 20 children ages 6 to 10 created nonmotorized cars for the July 22 event on a former tennis court at the Vermont College of Fine Arts hilltop campus in Montpelier. Parents and other fans formed a sizable throng to cheer on the derby participants. “It was pure joy,” Reid said. “All the kids had huge smiles on their faces.”

The cars included a Viking design with real paddles and a flying dragon with wings that flapped. Children’s rubber boots served as brakes, in an engineering solution that was both “genius and totally adorable at the same time,” Reid said.

The Hopebox Derby continues to generate contributions, and other ideas to showcase youthful philanthropy are circulating. Equally important, Reid added, the derby has given a community “hungry for something positive” a little bright spot and helped the children pitch into the recovery. As she puts it: “My goals were to raise some money, but the bigger goals were to raise awareness and also really inspire and make these kids feel empowered to make a difference.”

For more information about the Vermont Community Foundation fund visit the VT Flood Response & Recovery Fund 2023