Thousands line up for food giveaway in Central Vermont

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BERLIN, Vt. (WCAX) Thousands of people showed up in Central Vermont on Friday for free food. It was paid for with federal money to help the hungry and food producers during the coronavirus crisis. Our Ike Bendavid was at the airport in Berlin where thousands of cars jammed the runway.

Cars stretched as far as the eye could see. People from all walks of life and family sizes waited for hours to get the free food.

"I have been here since 8 o'clock this morning and I was waiting out in the road," said Roxie Hodgdon of Marshfield.

"It's a ton of cars," said Bronwen Corson of Calais. "It's like going to a concert."

But the show here was the organized chaotic scene on the runway.

The need for help was clear.

"It's a really big help," Hodgdon said. "Most of my family is out of work right now so it helps a lot."

"It is bad. It is really bad people can't pay their bills," said Bernie Levesque of Washington, Vermont.

Cars would pull up, say how many people they were picking up for, and then the Vermont National Guard would pile it into their cars.

"No different than something we do overseas is exactly the same thing we can do here," Command Sgt. Maj. Nathan Chipman said.

Several food distributions have happened already around the state where the guard gave out MREs. But at this, they handed out fresh and nonperishable food.

"This one is overwhelming with the amount of response that we have," Chipman said.

The Abbey Group of Enosburgh Falls won a $5.4 million USDA grant to set up nine giveaways like this one-- buying food, boxing it up and handing it out.

"This is pretty overwhelming to see," said Jason Maring of the Vermont Foodbank.

In each kit-- 20 pounds of chicken, 7.5 pounds of cheese and butter, 2 gallons of local milk and 25 pounds of produce. Helping to fill bellies and giving farmers and food distributors a market for their products that dried up when schools shut down and restaurants closed.

Maring says that the number of people who showed up reflects the need across the state.

"This is a good indicator of what the need actually is and this is a great way to address it moving forward," he said.

When the boxes ran out, the Guard handed out MREs so Vermonters didn't have to worry about their next meal.

"It just helps us out," Levesque said.

There are several more planned food distributions throughout the state. See the details below on the Abbey Group's Facebook page.