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Hungry Vermonters helped by program for drought-ravaged farms - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Hungry Vermonters helped by program for drought-ravaged farms

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BURLINGTON, Vt. -

Christine Cousineau's been filling in the gaps on her grocery list as a customer at the Chittenden Emergency Food Shelf for five years. She also volunteers there and says one thing is often missing-- high quality meat.

"It is very hard to stock most of the time. We have mainly tuna fish or chicken, canned beets," she said.

This week that changed. Thirty-five hundred pounds of meat is making its way to the freezers. It's some of roughly $170 million worth of meat and poultry the federal government bought from farmers hit by last summer's drought for food shelves across the country.

"When I have this chicken in here I can make several meals out of that for myself. I boil it up and start out with a chicken and dumplings, and use some of it for chicken salad, all kinds of things. So I can spread the protein out and get a little bit every day," Cousineau said.

In total, the Vermont Foodbank is in the process of taking in and distributing more than 145,000 pounds of chicken, pork and sausage from the USDA as part of the program.

"It is part of a balanced diet, so we want to get low fat meats to everyone, particularly children out there and the elderly who need that extra nutrition," said John Sayles, the CEO of the Vermont Foodbank.

Sayles says the meat is a welcome addition, but admits even with the influx of unexpected protein he's still only seeing about half the 3.5 million pounds of food the organization traditionally brings in from the USDA every year. He says he can't afford to make up the difference, especially when it comes to meat.

"We all know how expensive meat is and actually getting protein into the charitable food system is the most challenging part of our job," Sayles said.

The newest shipment to the Emergency Food Shelf in Burlington is only slated to last about two weeks. Cousineau says it's making an impact while it's here.

"You can see a little bit of relief in their face when they find out that there is meat, which we don't get often enough by any stretch of the imagination," she said.

About half of the meat slated for Vermont has already arrived. The rest is due to be trucked in by January.

The Vermont Foodbank says meat donations are rare from individuals and often come in around the holidays.

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