How a Vermont program aims to make sure everyone eats

Published: Jul. 31, 2020 at 6:53 PM EDT|Updated: Jul. 31, 2020 at 8:50 PM EDT
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QUECHEE, Vt. (WCAX) - A $5 million partnership with businesses across Vermont is working to ensure no one goes hungry. Our Adam Sullivan explains how it got started.

When the pandemic first hit back in March, the Skinny Pancake restaurant chain immediately started providing free shift meals to its laid-off workers. Months later, the program has morphed into a statewide initiative to feed those in need.

Quechee resident Kathy Stroffolino picked up two of the 60 meals the Skinny Pancake in Quechee was giving out for free Friday afternoon.

"It absolutely helps tremendously," Stroffolino said. "Like I say, everybody should stick together in their community."

As many as 150 meals have been given out weekly at this location alone. But the program is about to get much bigger.

"Since basically the beginning of April we have made over 50,000 meals and then helped to catalyze this statewide allocation of funding through the CARES Act," said Jean Hamilton of the Skinny Pancake.

Five-million-dollars to be exact. The "Shift Meals" program is now the model for a larger initiative called "Everyone Eats," which supports restaurants feeding Vermonters who have been negatively impacted by COVID-19.

"Once we can identify the hubs, the hubs will then be asked to identify the restaurants," Gary Holloway said.

Holloway works for the Vt. Agency of Commerce and Community Development, which secured the funding. Southeastern Vermont Community Action is in the process of looking for community organizers with help from a host of other partners.

"Vermont Food Bank, Hunger-Free Vermont, Sustainable Jobs Fund, Restaurant Coalition," Holloway said.

Participating restaurants are paid $10 per meal and at least 10% of the ingredients for each meal must be sourced from local farms or value-added food producers.

Skinny Pancake employees say they are proud of the work they have done to get to this point.

"I'm under no illusion that $5 million is going to save Vermont's restaurant industry or feed every Vermonter in need," Hamilton said.

But she says it's a start. And the program is already showing signs of success.

"That's what a community should do-- help others out," Stroffolino said.

The program expects to ramp up to 15,000 meals a week, which will continue through December. A model that brings communities and businesses together with one simple agenda: everyone eats.

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