MANCHESTER, NH – Stark Brewing Company owner Peter Telge is hoping this year’s Christmas cheer party and fundraiser, which has for 25 years lifted the spirits of the city’s homeless and most needy, will also be his best.
Because it will be his last.
There are layers of reasons why Telge has decided to call it quits after this year on the annual party and Christmas morning breakfast and gift giving outreach. For one, he’d like to spend Christmas morning at home, with his wife and two kids.
And to be honest, it takes a lot of energy and effort to raise $10,000 year after year toward covering the cost of food and tangible goodwill. Some years, Telge overshot the anticipated guest list and found himself with enough leftovers for 100 people. Other years, the fundraising was slow.
This year, he tried using Facebook to launch an online fundraiser, which already has him more than halfway to his goal.
“I’ve never tried an online fundraiser before, but it’s pretty freaking cool,” says Telge, between everyday tasks during a recent weekday lunch hour.
Telge realizes there are a lot of competing charitable giving opportunities this time of year, which isn’t a bad thing – the more, the merrier Christmas for those in need. His support of New Horizons for New Hampshire soup kitchen and homeless shelter has been unwavering. Over the years he’s worked with five different shelter directors, each with their own personal approach to making sure shelter clients made it down to the millyard for a free meal and some gifts.
His personal commitment to aiding the less fortunate started back in 1992, when he was working at the High-5 on Canal Street.
“I’m not really sure what it was that made me do it. I was running the High 5 and just decided I was going to try and feed the city’s homeless. That first year I did it on my own, I had my cooks set me up the night before and in the morning we put out a breakfast buffet,” Telge recalls. “We only had about 50 or 60 people that year, but I guess it kind of got me hooked. That’s why I hate to say this will be my last year, but it’s time to refocus on the business.”
Through it all, Telge has connected with good people from around the state who oversee outreaches for the homeless, and it’s been as rewarding as it has been consuming. Over the years, Telge has adjusted himself to the industry trends, changing his business name from Milly’s Tavern, which was more of a live music venue, to Stark Brewing, with a focus on manufacturing and distribution of beer and spirits. As others have followed suit, Telge has had to rise to the continuing challenges of hiring and retaining a solid staff, and drawing customers in a city that’s become saturated with eateries and microbreweries.
“The last five years I’ve missed seeing my kids open their Christmas presents on Christmas morning,” says Telge, who has two boys, ages 10 and 12.
I’m raising money for New Horizons for New Hampshire. Every little bit helps. This cause means a lot to me, and I believe that we can make a difference…
The annual gesture of good will has taught Telge a lot about human nature – he’s never short on volunteers, and there are always an abundance of donated gifts and gently-used clothing items to go around.
“Manchester is a good city. People always offer to come and help,” he says.
Using money raised in advance and donations, Telge sets up his back room like a gift shop. After Christmas morning breakfast, those who come in for food are also given bags and invited to fill it with whatever they need, from toiletries and clothing, to non-perishable food items and even some donated gifts and toys.
Another tradition at Stark Brewing is the pre-Christmas party, which began as a sort of holiday high school reunion for Telge and some of his classmates. It’s evolved into a final fundraising push for the Christmas Day outreach. This year on Dec. 23 attendees are invited to pay a suggested donation of $10 in advance, or $15 at the door, and can stick around for music and singalongs, appetizers, and the official release of Stark’s Imperial Stout, along with general holiday cheer. Doors open at 7 p.m.
A huge silent auction features donated goods and services from local restaurants, salons and sports venues, as well as a 50/50 raffle.
“I’ve had some business owners buy tickets to give to their employees, so they can get together and celebrate the holidays,” says Telge.
General donations for the cause, of clothing, toiletries, canned or non-perishable items, are welcome any time right up until Christmas Day. Just stop by the brewery, located at 500 Commercial St., and drop them off, says Telge.
“But what we need most is money,” says Telge.