A program in Vermont aims to both address food insecurity and the deep hits to sales that local restaurants have suffered during the coronavirus pandemic.
The state of Vermont used $5 million in federal COVID-19 relief money to fund Everyone Eats. The program distributes restaurant-prepared meals-to-go, to Vermonters hurt by the pandemic.
"It's been working out really well," said Jess Edgerly Walsh, who noted that more than 100 eateries are now feeding residents of all 14 Vermont counties through a network of pick-up sites.
Chefs are expected to source at least a tenth of their ingredients from Vermont farms.
"It's a win, win, win—from farms to restaurants to families," Edgerly Walsh told NECN.
COVID-19 has meant receipts are way down at The Cornerstone, a popular bar and restaurant in Barre, according to the owner.
"It hasn't been a good year," Rich McSheffrey acknowledged. "A 70% loss of business, company-wide."
Many workers, like Traci Estivill, have felt the pandemic's pinch, too. She said she lost some hours at her hospital job early on, meaning her earnings for 2020 will be lower than expected.
"In the beginning, things were a little tight," Estivill said after picking up meals from the Everyone Eats program Thursday—including one suitable for her gluten-free dietary need.
Restaurants receive $10 per plate. The Cornerstone's staff is preparing 200 meals a week, McSheffrey said.
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"It's about keeping a couple of our employees busier, adding more hours, as well as being able to provide such a great service," McSheffrey said, describing the benefits of the new revenues from the program.
Sue Minter heads Capstone Community Action, which works to help people rise out of poverty in Washington, Lamoille, and Orange Counties.
"What's so important isn't just that it's high quality, it's that it's nutritious," Minter said of the food provided through the program.
The funding for Everyone Eats expires at the end of 2020, Edgerly Walsh said.
Additionally, the USDA Farmers to Families Food Box program, which has provided boxes of groceries to food-insecure families, expires this month, as the Vermont Foodbank said in a story NECN recently reported.
With cold weather in Vermont meaning home heating costs will soon be rising, Minter said that creates an additional layer of economic difficulty for people hit hard by the pandemic.
"My worries are very deep and grave," Minter told NECN. "We know before the pandemic, 1 out of 10 Vermonters was considered food insecure. And now the number is 1 out of 4."
Traci Estivill said she was grateful for the meals, calling them a mental boost at a high-stress time.
"Knowing that it's coming from the community, going to the community, is pretty amazing," Estivill said.
The Cornerstone said it was glad to have seen its kitchen busy again.
"lt's about getting to the other side," McSheffrey added.
Everyone Eats is serving up a small helping of stability, amid the virus's economic shockwaves.