At the end of the year, a program that provided free food for Vermonters in need, Everyone Eats, was put on hold so organizers could find new funding sources.
Next week, the program, which supports local farmers and restaurants, as well as people experiencing food insecurity, will return in Rutland, Washington, Orange and Lamoille counties.
Jean Hamilton, Everyone Eats statewide coordinator for Southeastern Vermont Community Action (SEVCA) said Thursday that Everyone Eats is returning all over the state, but in some areas it was able to continue its mission this week and some sites needed a little more time to get ready.
Hamilton said she anticipates that all the participating hubs will be back online by the middle of next week.
Everyone Eats is able to help multiple groups affected by the pandemic because it buys meals from local restaurants and gives them to Vermonters in need. The support allows those restaurants to continue buying from farmers who feared they would lose their restaurant sales because COVID-19 was reducing the number of people who could or wanted to eat out.
An allocation from the Vermont Agency of Commerce and Community Development will fund three weeks of the program. Partners working with the local agencies on the ground who are gathering and distributing the food, including members of the administration of Gov. Phil Scott and the Legislature, are working to identify future funding sources.
“We have always worked very closely with both the administration and the Legislature since the launch of this program and our state leadership has continued to be really supportive. I think they see, as so many people do across Vermont, this program is really valuable and really helping communities in just the right kind of targeted ways,” Hamilton said.
She added that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) had supplied some reimbursement for Everyone Eats funding and she believed the “door is open for FEMA” to possibly continue as a funding source.
Harry DiPrinzio, who runs the Rutland County Everyone East for the Vermont Farmers Food Center said they would resume their work on Monday.
We just want to get the word out that this program is up and running and available for folks who need it,” he said.
DiPrinzio said he’s not anticipating any changes to the way the program will work locally. While the weather is much colder than when they first began to distribute meals, he noted they “endured several very cold weeks in December.”
However, he said, he had a concern about people being able to reach the VFFC building on West Street or drivers delivering food being able to make their rounds in the event of heavy snow.
Another aspect that’s expected to continue is the partnership with other organizations like churches that allow Everyone Eats meals to get to residents outside Rutland. He said he hopes people in towns like Danby will find a way to get meals if they’re needed just as people do in downtown Rutland.
Eloise Reid, food security specialist for Capstone Community Action, pointed out that their Everyone Eats program, which has a goal of distributing 5,000 meals a week, will also start next week. They reach Washington, Orange and Lamoille counties.
Reid said she didn’t expect many changes from the 2020 program. The majority of their partners will rejoin the effort.
Because of the amount of area covered by the Capstone-coordinated Everyone Eats, there are multiple partners including churches, health care sites, child care sites, food shelves and agencies that provide home visits.
Hamilton said she knew everyone from the staff at state agencies to the people at SEVCA to people in the field at VFFC and Capstone to the restaurant owners were happy to see Everyone Eats continue.
“Everyone is really happy to resume this program. It just provided such meaningful work for everybody involved,” she said.
Visit the VFFC website at vermontfarmersfoodcenter.org to see the schedule for distribution in the Rutland County area. Their goal is to give out 3,600 meals a week.
More information on the program in Washington, Orange and Lamoille counties can be found at capstonevt.org/#home or shiftmeals.org/everyone-eats for ShiftMeal, which runs the Chittenden County program.