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Vt. pandemic food program holds final pickup

Published: Sep. 30, 2021 at 4:56 PM EDT|Updated: Oct. 1, 2021 at 5:45 AM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - A statewide program feeding Vermont’s low-income families during the pandemic is finished. Full Plates VT distributed 40,000 food boxes at 19 sites in all 14 counties since it launched in June, replacing the federal Farmers to Families program. The group’s last event took place in Burlington Thursday.

Gail and William Orr loaded food for six families into their minivan Thursday. The Milton couple has helped feed their neighbors and friends for the past year. “In our early years, we would have qualified to be those families. We really struggled in our early years,” Gail said.

“I know what is it to be without and I know what it is to be with,” added William.

Driving right behind the Orr’s, familiar faces Mike and Karen Hathaway of Milton, who always fill the bed of their trailer to the brim. ”They just can’t get here. They have no vehicle or they’re too sick. So we, one by one, get them the stuff that they need,” Karen said.

Proof of that significant need is demonstrated by the line of cars pouring out onto North Avenue from the North Alliance Church parking lot.

Reporter Christina Guessferd: How has this made a difference in your life?

Jaylyn Sheperd: Definitely helped with financial stuff -- and we don’t get assistance -- so this kind of made ends meet.

Families tell us they are disappointed the Full Plates program has come to a close because it’s so convenient. But that’s why leaders at the Vermont Foodbank want to stress that they’re partnering with 215 organizations and groups to keep food on the table.

“Things aren’t going back to the way they were,” said Vermont Foodbank CEO John Sayles. He says his team is taking lessons from this pandemic program in stride. “Getting food closer to people makes it more accessible.”

Within the next six months to a year, Sayles plans to develop a few pilot programs with that message in mind. That will include an electronic order ahead system and a home delivery program at some area food shelves. He says eventually they hope to have a drive-thru distribution similar to the Full Plates model.

But money poses the biggest problem. Both Full Plates VT and the Farmers to Families were powered by federal resources. The food bank contracted with the Abbey Group and other food services to store, organize, and distribute the meal kits and grocery boxes. “We were someplace different every day, feeding 500 people,” said the Abbey Group’s Scott Choiniere.

Compensating Choiniere’s crew cost more than $430,000, about $120,000 of which the USDA covered. The food bank’s philanthropic donors and nonprofits funded the rest.

Choiniere says they would be happy to do the job again. “It’s very rewarding for us to be able to be part of this,” he said.

In the meantime, Sayles suggests checking if families in need of help are eligible for 3SquaresVT and trying curbside pickup at your local meal site.

Learn more about specific food access programs for kids, families and older adults here or call 833-670-2254.

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