With food insecurity high, a Vermont woman is hoping 2021 brings continued community support for her effort to provide meals to her appreciative neighbors—a project that also brings other benefits.
The Giving Fridge operates out of Middlebury, using donated money and proceeds from the sale of houseplants to purchase prepared meals from area restaurants.
The packaged meals are then provided free to people in the Middlebury area who could use a hand during the pandemic.
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"The need is increasing," said Bethanie Farrell, who, along with other community volunteers, cooked up the idea to get cash flowing through plant sales to help address three problems COVID-19 either created or worsened.
The Giving Fridge is first filling an empty storefront in downtown Middlebury, using space donated by a Vermont commercial real estate firm.
The project then directs needed revenues to local eateries that lost sales during the pandemic.
"One of the biggest challenges that we're facing during COVID right now is how give our staff enough things to do," said Matt Corrente, the owner of a Middlebury restaurant called The Arcadian, which is known for its homemade pasta and other Italian dishes. "Creating an outlet for more meals allows us to keep our team at the restaurant longer."
Third, with a recent University of Vermont study showing nearly 30% of Vermonters have faced food insecurity since March, the effort's also sending high-quality prepared meals home with folks on tight budgets.
"Everybody just gives a little bit, but it all adds up," said Jim Bushey of Brandon, who was picking up meals Thursday from the storefront on Merchant's Row in Middlebury.
Farrell told NECN and NBC10 Boston that many recipients of The Giving Fridge's restaurant-cooked meals have told her their budgetary priorities have had to be shifted during the pandemic.
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Farrell also said she wants to create an atmosphere where there is no shame whatsoever around asking for a nutritious meal.
"I'm lucky enough to still have my job, but I've definitely experienced reduced hours, for sure," said Holly Foss of Shoreham, who was picking up meals for her family Thursday. "My kids—they have what they need, but sometimes the little extras aren't there."
Arran Stokes works for the John Graham Emergency Shelter in Vergennes, which offers housing support in times of crisis.
"For us, it's a godsend," Stokes said of The Giving Fridge.
Dinners purchased with the proceeds from sales of those potted plants will also feed residents of the shelter.
"To have a real meal is important," Stokes said. "We're really indebted to them."
Bethanie Farrell said she thinks of The Giving Fridge as an example of how members of a strong community can creatively work together to find solutions.
"It's been rewarding," Farrell said.
Call the concept a recipe for kindness—proving a simple houseplant really can grow into so much more.
"As long as we keep getting donations and plant sales, we'll continue," Farrell promised.