Berlin, VT: Vermont Everyone Eats organizers and partners gathered at one of the program’s weekly distribution points to highlight the impact the COVID-relief program has made in the eight weeks since its launch. In August, the Vermont Legislature provided $5 million in CARES Act funding to create this program that engages restaurants to prepare meals for Vermonters hit by the pandemic.
“Just three months since funding was granted, VT Everyone Eats “Hubs” have launched in all 14 counties, engaging more than 100 Vermont restaurants and distributing meals at over 130 distribution sites,” said Steve Geller, Executive Director of Southeastern Vermont Community Action (SEVCA), the agency overseeing the statewide effort. “The COVID pandemic has inspired many of us to step up and take action. With Vermont Everyone Eats, SEVCA saw an opportunity to help Vermonters in need by demonstrating our belief that poverty need not be a permanent condition, that people can be empowered to rise out of poverty, and that the strength of our communities is measured by the quality of life of everyone within them.”
Restaurants participating in the program must purchase at least 10% of the ingredients for Everyone Eats meals from Vermont farmers and food producers. Brittany Sperber of The Skinny Pancake and ShiftMeals co-coordinates Everyone Eats of Central Vermont, working with restaurants to adjust their menus and build relationships with local vendors. “The 12 central Vermont restaurants participating in the program have consistently purchased over 30% of their ingredients locally,” said Sperber.
“The Everyone Eats meals that we’ve added to our Healthcare Shares have done an amazing job showcasing the local produce our clients are receiving in their weekly farmshare,” said Jess Laporte, the Community Health Program Manager at the Vermont Youth Conservation Corps. “And we’ve gotten only fantastic reviews of the cooking!”
Advocates are celebrating the strategy of tying food assistance to local economic development. Restaurants have been hard hit as the pandemic has turned their world upside down. “It was easy to get started in the program, and it’s provided consistent revenue while we reconfigure our businesses to this new normal,” said Rich McSheffrey, the owner of Cornerstone Pub and Kitchen. “Now that we’re open again, our business is at 40-50% of where we were last fall – and I consider us lucky to even have that!”
The legislative intent in passing H.966 and creating the program was to benefit restaurants, farms, individuals and families. “Every aspect of our daily operation – and thus the day-to-day work of our employees – has had to change, and change again as CVMC has addressed the Covid-19 pandemic,” said Robert Patterson, Vice President of Human Resources and Clinical Operations at Central Vermont Medical Center. “The community support we’ve received has been invaluable in our emergency response.” The hospital is hosting weekly meal distributions for both employees and patients. “If you’re a single mother and nurse’s assistant facing everything the pandemic has thrown at you, navigating this is just impossible,” said Tawyna Kristen, the director of Green Mountain United Way. “Changes at work, changes with your childcare – all coming at once, while you’re just trying to keep your family safe. The least we can do is send you home with dinner.”
Everyone Eats meals are available through a variety of distribution channels, including food shelves, community meal sites, healthcare clinics, day care centers, and dedicated outdoor meal distribution hubs. Meals are coordinated at the community level by 16 community Hubs, or collaborations, that have formed to initiate and manage the program.
To find a distribution site in Chittenden County or Central Vermont visit https://shiftmeals.org/everyone-eats/. To learn more about the statewide program go to: www.vteveryoneeats.org. Vermonters can also download digital vouchers to be used in participating restaurants from the Vermont Everyone Eats Digital Voucher app, created by Localvore – a Vermont tech company. For information about Everyone Eats Digital Vouchers visit: www.localvorepassport.com/everyone-eats/
Currently, the program is funded through mid-December. “Across the state, we’ve built a significant and successful relief program in a matter of weeks. Vermonters never fail to rise when challenges loom large,” said Sue Minter, Executive Director of Capstone Community Action. “We’re calling for Congress to pass a stimulus bill to extend this needed help for our restaurants and hungry Vermonters. Winter is around the corner and with it, the growing need for food, heat and economic security.”