A new food distribution program in Vermont is picking up where a previous one left off, ensuring free grocery deliveries can continue while food insecurity in the state is high because of the coronavirus pandemic.
John Sayles, of the Vermont Foodbank, described his aim for the Vermont Farmers to Families food box program as "helping us all be able to bounce back from this and not dig out."
The new project is nearly identical, even in name, to the national Farmers to Families food box program, which was funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
“Everyone really needs this right now,” said Cindy Stowell on May 26, as she waited to pick up a grocery box in Burlington.
She was in one of those long lines for the USDA-funded version of the Farmers to Families program last year, which allowed distributions nationwide.
While that federal backing has ended, the new, Vermont-specific version paid for with charitable donations is now starting.
It will deliver 500 food boxes to Vermonters each weekday for the next eight weeks, according to the Vermont Foodbank.
The distributions will take place throughout the state.
To find a distribution location near you and to sign up for a grocery box ahead of the pick-up date, visit this website from the state of Vermont. That site also provides information on other resources available to help people access food, including 3SquaresVT.
A recent University of Vermont study showed nearly 30% of Vermonters weren’t always sure how they’d afford their next grocery order since the start of the pandemic.
“There’s a lot of value for us knowing we can help feed our neighbors,” said Angus Baldwin, a Jeffersonville vegetable farmer who was packing hundreds of pounds of rutabagas Monday for the new grocery boxes.
Baldwin, who operates West Farm, described the new Vermont Farmers to Families project as a win-win, which benefits producers as well as recipients.
“It allows me to give my employees more hours,” Baldwin noted. “To be able to sell [the vegetables] now — it’s definitely a benefit to our farm.”
Sayles told NECN the new $1.4 million effort funded by donations was in the works even before a recent $9 million gift to the Foodbank from billionaire philanthropist MacKenzie Scott, the ex-wife of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos.
That major gift will be integral to the Foodbank’s mission to deliver services moving forward, Sayles said.
“It gives us the confidence to know that we’re going to be able to continue to respond at the level that we need to,” Sayles said, adding that the economic recovery of families hit hard by the pandemic will take a long time.
The Foodbank’s logistics partner in the new, locally designed food box program is the Abbey Group, which is based in the Franklin County town of Sheldon. That business is a caterer that services school cafeterias, so it has a lot of contacts with farms and food suppliers.
The team packing the boxes is proud to have been brought on for the mission, according to Scott Choiniere, the executive vice president of The Abbey Group.
“I’ve got [staffers packing grocery boxes] who lost their job because of COVID, and kids trying to make it through college, so it’s really helping everybody else,” Choiniere said. “I want to thank everybody for all their help. It means a lot to us.”
People involved in the Vermont Farmers to Families food box program describe the effort as further proof how just how interconnected Vermonters are.
For more information on services provided by the Vermont Foodbank, visit the nonprofit organization’s website.