Barre, Vermont — January 27, 2021 – By Eloise Reid, Food Security Specialist at Capstone Community Action

On a cold, snowy morning in late January I met Keith Paxman at the Mad River Valley Food Hub. He is the owner of Open Hearth Pizza, a restaurant located in Warren, Vermont. This week the Central Vermont Everyone Eats team had decided that I would deliver our meals to all of our Lamoille Valley partners. This face-to-face interaction was a bit of a “welcome back” tour that allowed me to hit the pause button on the Zoom meetings, phone calls, and emails which have become routine in pandemic communication. It was a welcome change. 

Our Central Vermont Everyone Eats program restarted after a two-week pause in early January due to lack of funding from the federal government. This time allowed our team to recalibrate some internal systems and present two informational resource webinars to our partners. The Central Vermont Everyone Eats program is a collaborative effort between Capstone Community Action and ShiftMeals and engages 39 partners and 12 restaurants throughout Washington, Orange, and Lamoille Counties. In the fall and winter of 2020, Everyone Eats of Central Vermont distributed 82,001 meals which placed $820,010 back into the Central Vermont Economy. 36.6% of the ingredients were sourced from Vermont producers. We held 6 large distribution events in the fall and served almost 2,000 meals to 4 Rehab and Senior Living Centers experiencing Covid-19 outbreaks. And this was just the beginning!

A successful community distribution at the Field Days site in Lamoille County

Keith and I loaded up 450 frozen meals of teriyaki chicken and veggie lasagna in the back of my Subaru Forester. Open Hearth Pizza has struggled during the pandemic and Keith notes that “COVID has depleted all of my catering and food truck business, nor do we have a physical location for sit down dining.” Yet, due to making close to 1,500 meals a week for Everyone Eats, he says he has been able to keep staff onboard and has even been able to hire folks to support this communal endeavor. In 2020, Everyone Eats funded over 530,000 meals, injecting $5.3 million into local restaurants and nearly $500,000 to Vermont farms and food producers. Everyone Eats operates in all 14 counties by local community organizations and restaurants.

We said goodbye as the snow fell and I double checked my brakes then maneuvered myself over the mountains to our first distribution partner; the Lamoille Community Food Share (LCFS). LCFS has been a partner with the Central Vermont Everyone Eats team since we began our regional outreach in late August of 2020. They are a small but mighty food pantry located in an industrial part of Morrisville, and share a parking lot with other service providers and a Community College of Vermont (CCV) satellite campus. With many masks and layers on, we unloaded 200 meals into their freezers and I marveled at the cleanliness and organization of the community food share. I met the excellent volunteers and staff members, and their adorable puppy, and was on my way! They have a completely outdoor and public distribution site from 9:00-11:30 Monday-Saturday, so stop by and grab a meal and stock up on any other food you may need. They are located at 194 Harrel Street, in Morristown, Vermont.

Two essential workers at the Lamoille Community Food Share

After delivering meals to three different childcare facilities, two healthcare facilities, and the Lamoille Community House in Hyde Park, I was headed to the Wolcott United Methodist Church, which houses a small and dedicated congregation of volunteers who host another public distribution on Fridays from 3:30-5:30 at 4023 VT-15 in Wolcott.

A staff member at Capstone Community Action in Morrisville accepts a large delivery of meals

En route to the Church, I was hit with a wave of emotion. The remote aspects of my work at times can keep me isolated (out of safety and precaution against Covid-19) from the impact that programs like Everyone Eats have on our Vermont community members and neighbors. From speaking with the restaurant owner earlier that morning, to seeing a little girls face through the window pane at a childcare center, to the help I received when carrying heavy boxes up the ramp at the shelter, I began to truly see the network of care and support that a healthy meal and dedicated people can provide in such a moment of difficulty for our state and nation.

Participants receiving delicious frozen meals from volunteers at the United Methodist Church

Food insecurity has grown dramatically with the COVID-19 crisis. Before the pandemic, 1 in 10 Vermonters experienced food insecurity, now the statistic has jumped to 1 in 3. Women are twice as likely to be impacted than men, and for communities of color, the burden is four times worse. While Everyone Eats does not solve food insecurity, it has served as a piece of the puzzle during the pandemic. Capstone Community Action’s Executive Director Sue Minter notes “Everyone Eats has provided clear evidence that points to the power of strong communities and networks. It is better to work together and build communal resiliency than to go at it alone. For those participating in Everyone Eats, it is our goal to connect recipients of meals to other important resources like 3SquaresVT and Food Shelves, as well as housing support, utilities, weatherization and other programming that Capstone has to offer. All of these programs can help you get through a tough time and offer pathways out of poverty.”

As a state, we have fared better than most in regards to the spread of Covid-19, and yet, similar to the rest of the nation, we are all feeling the economic downturn and the psychological impacts from living in a state of what can feel like perpetual lockdown. I understood this before, but getting out into the world and checking in with folks I had mainly made connections with via Zoom really helped me understand that the Everyone Eats meals are a tool that helps all of us provide that sense of connection in a time where we all feel so isolated. Knowing that our Vermont farmers grew the carrots that then were roasted by our chefs, and delivered throughout our strong networks to folks that could really just use a delicious meal and some warm food, makes these meals a thread of connection, community, and hope. 

And in this moment of reflection, it is also a time to understand where we need to focus our efforts for Everyone Eats 2021. While this program has uplifted so many, we must continue to prioritize food security for Black, Indigenous, Latinx, and all communities of color in Central Vermont. We are also excited to partner with more BIPOC-owned restaurants and increase cultural awareness and competency in food access, diet, and preference. We have partnered with ShiftMeals BIPOC Food Sovereignty Program Managers, Zymora Davinchi and Jaya Touma-Shoatz, to address food injustice within Central Vermont. We are hoping to partner with Migrant Justice, Allied Vermont and work with Abenaki Chef, Jessee Lawyer. Focusing on this initiative for the remainder of the Everyone Eats program will allow us to invest in communities that have been hardest hit by the impacts of Covid-19.

Lastly, we are taking the time to build stronger partnerships with our community distribution sites, and really listening to what they expect for the second phase of the meal program. We want to recognize our interns, past and current, Andrew Plumb and Lili Kurkland-Platt, who support the internal processes. Lili will also co-facilitate the weekly Community Coffee partner conversations. As we are able to onboard more distribution partners and restaurants in 2021, we are interested in working within strategic geographic locations in order to help alleviate rural food desert communities. 

Thank you to all our partners in Washington, Orange and Lamoille counties. Thank you to all of our excellent restaurants and thank you for supporting and eating this food! It’s a cycle that connects us all, and in the time of global pandemic, relying on community connections has made all the difference.

The Central Vermont Everyone Eats Team, from Top Left: Brittany Sperber, Eloise Reid, Casey Engels, Lili Platt