UVM Medical Center food drive sees record donations

Published: Feb. 1, 2021 at 5:31 AM EST|Updated: Feb. 1, 2021 at 7:03 AM EST
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - It started as a number of small projects scattered around the University of Vermont Medical Center campuses-- from flower sale donations to fresh produce donations-- but slowly programs came together and in 2020, recorded a banner year.

The food drive organizers at the University of Vermont Medical Center say if any year was the year to crush a goal, it was 2020 as food insecurity numbers soared in Vermont.

According to UVMMC, one in four families is food insecure.

More than 2,600 pounds of food were donated to food shelves, but even after a banner year, according to drive organizers, that just sets a new, higher goal.

“Programs like this just have a way of developing over time,” said Lisa Hoare, the garden educator at the UVM Medical Center.

It was a drive that was poised to take 2020 by storm but a different storm arrived.

“And then when everything came upon us in March, we struggled with logistics a bit,” said Hoare.

But she says in a year when food insecurity was peaking, they felt they couldn’t stop.

“Immediately we knew. We will have to figure something out because there is no way we can’t do this,” said Hoare.

Every month, they would hold a food drive somewhere on different campuses and encourage people to give what they could.

“We were able to increase our donations by 1,000 pounds from 2019. Like that just blows my mind,” said Andrea Rocco, the Nutrition Services Office coordinator for UVMMC and co-coordinator of food drive efforts.

She says above all, Vermonters helping Vermonters is about healing the hardships the pandemic has caused. And although all programs combating food insecurity are crucial, small programs like this stand out.

“I just think it means more for the smaller communities to get out there that don’t have the time or the opportunities to go to these bigger initiatives that Vermont is putting on,” said Rocco.

The UVMMC food drives were able to help about six food shelves in Chittenden County in 2020, one of which was in Colchester. Marcia Devino is the board director for the food shelf and says it’s efforts like this that keep communities going.

“Donations like the medical center and the citizens really helps to keep the shelves stocked the way they are,” said Devino.

But the drive coordinators don’t look in retrospect often, only for record numbers they can seek to crush this year.

“Our hope is for years to come, to increase by a thousand pounds every year because if we can do it during the pandemic, we can do it at any time,” said Rocco.

Hoare says it is drives like this that reoccur and start at a grassroots level and build up to large contributions that remind her that sometimes health care happens outside the facility and their food drive program is a great example of that.

Organizers of the drive are that much more ambitious for next year.

“I just really want to push the UVMMC community and community members as a whole that we can do this. We can make strides to ending food insecurity in our communities if we work together,” Rocco said.

They continue to make donations. Just last week, they donated 165 pounds to the Winooski Food Shelf and next month is the Williston Food Shelf. Even this past Friday, they were able to drop off about 60 pounds in Colchester.

The food shelf in Colchester says they are always in search of donations like pasta and sauce, peanut butter and cereal.

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