Area food shelves continue to struggle as food drives are canceled due to COVID-19 concerns.
United Way of Rutland County executive director Caprice Hover said Monday that the Letter Carriers Stamp Out Hunger Food Drive — which was scheduled for early May and collected 83,000 pounds of food in the Rutland-Springfield-Bellows Falls area — had been canceled, depriving area food shelves of one of their biggest drives as need increases.
“We’ve had every single food shelf that’s registered with Hunger Free Vermont need help and we’re getting the call now,” she said. “Castleton Cares, Fair Haven Concerned, Pittsford, Wallingford, Poultney. A lot of people are out of work — no food.”
Hover said she was pleased to hear that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints announced Sunday it would send a tractor-trailer loaded with food to Rutland on April 9.
According to a news release from the church’s Montpelier office, the truck will be loaded with 40,000 pounds of “butter, cheese, flour, pasta and other shelf-stable canned products.”
“The Church produces much of its own food that is used in storehouses across the country and for humanitarian purposes,” the notice read. “The Church purposely over produces which allows these extra truckloads to become available to various nonprofit organizations at times when there is not a serious need elsewhere. This donation was made available to the Montpelier Vermont Stake on Feb. 13 and they immediately wanted to share this donation with the Rutland area.”
BROC CEO Tom Donahue said BROC would take a portion of the truckload for its food shelf and the majority would go out to the Vermont Food Bank’s network.
Hover said the smaller shelves around the county have a significant need.
“The outlying areas are getting kind of neglected,” she said.
Hover said food shelves are struggling with a simultaneous spike in demand and drop in supply, as grocery stores grapple to keep staple food in stock.
“Someone got laid off and didn’t realize they’d need to go to the store; they’re coming to the food shelf because there is no food,” Hover said.
Donahue said that while BROC struggled with its supply early in the crisis, that problem has changed because of other sources, including a large donation of milk, half-and-half and related items from Rutland’s newly opened Starbucks, which has temporarily closed due to the pandemic.
Donahue said the number of users at BROC’s food shelf has doubled in two weeks.
“We have seen an uptick in young people,” he said. “I’m glad they’re turning to us, and I’m glad they see us as an alternative.”
With food collections posing a potential infection vector, Donahue recommends people wanting to help should donate money rather than food.
“What I’ve been encouraging people to do — and I would encourage them to do that in their town — is to provide a financial contribution and let their food shelf get what they need when they need it,” he said.