As Thanksgiving Approaches, Communities Focus on Hunger

Advocates on the front lines of fighting hunger in Vermont say roughly 1 in 10 households in the state don’t always have enough food to eat.

It’s a topic that’s coming into focus as Thanksgiving approaches, and as Congress prepares to reauthorize the Farm Bill and its nutrition assistance programs.

At the Chittenden Emergency Food Shelf in Burlington, executive director Rob Meehan said approximately 20,000 people in Chittenden County are food insecure.

To help ensure more people in the Burlington area can enjoy a holiday meal, the Chittenden Emergency Food Shelf is now whittling away at its goal of collecting 3,500 turkeys from community donors.

"Our community is really wonderful, helping feed each other," Meehan said.

At the tiny Elf Food Shelf housed inside the Green Mountain Community Alliance Church in Duxbury, director Ruth Haskins said she and food shelves like hers statewide aim to get their neighbors the meals they need, not just at Thanksgiving, but year-round.

"People in our community work very hard," Haskins said. "And most people in our community never earn enough money."

Marissa Parisi, the executive director of Hunger Free Vermont, said Vermont has made encouraging progress addressing food insecurity, especially with children.

However, food insecurity remains a challenge for about 10 percent of the population, she said.

"It’s still a pretty epidemic problem," Parisi told necn.

Parisi noted that many senior citizens are still struggling with nutrition.

"I would really encourage anyone in Vermont, if you know a senior who lives alone at home and you have the opportunity to invite them to your holiday dinner, to do that to help build that [social] connection," Parisi said.

Firm numbers on hungry seniors are hard to come by, Parisi said, because she believes the population underreports its needs.

Great-grandmother Arlene Woods goes to Burlington’s Heineberg Senior Center for well-balanced meals.

"They treat us like queens here," Woods said during lunchtime at the senior center Tuesday.

Woods said she does worry about other older Americans’ access to food, and the socializing that comes with it.

"It’s difficult when you get older," she noted.

Back at the Chittenden Emergency Food Shelf, Meehan said the center’s turkey drive will continue into next week at the facility on North Winooski Avenue in Burlington. Monetary donations are also welcome, Meehan said, since the food shelf can use it to buy food.

The Elf Shelf will also be accepting donations of turkeys and other holiday fixings this Saturday morning starting at 9 a.m. at the Community Alliance Church on Route 100 in Duxbury.

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