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As Traffic At Food Shelves Spikes, Vermont Launches 'Mass Feeding Plan'

Rachel Kring, executive director of the Hinesburg Community Resources Center, says traffic at the organization's food shelf has increased since the arrival of COVID-19.
Peter Hirschfeld
/
VPR
Rachel Kring, executive director of the Hinesburg Community Resources Center, says traffic at the organization's food shelf has increased since the arrival of COVID-19.

As the coronavirus pandemic inflicts a mounting toll on the Vermont economy, state officials have begun to develop a “mass feeding plan” for residents who can no longer afford to put food on the table.

The Hinesburg Community Resource Center has lent a helping hand to low-income families for almost 35 years. And for the last two of those, Executive Director Rachel Kring has overseen the organization's food shelf, which operates out of a donated building.

Until COVID-19 came on the scene, the food shelf had a community greeting area, where people could sit down and chat while they waited to browse the aisles for food.

“And right now since we’re bringing everything out to cars, we’ve just got stuff staged here and there and everywhere,” Kring said.

Logistics aren’t the only thing that’s changed since Gov. Phil Scott issued his “Stay Home, Stay Safe” order last month: Kring said the number of people coming by for help has spiked as more Vermonters lose their jobs as a result of COVID-19.

More From VPR: What Vermonters Need — And How You Can Help — In Response to COVID-19

“Our board has been talking about us being in this for the long haul, and what’s going to happen when suddenly the crisis is deemed over — it’s not over for those families that we serve that are already living check to check and will possibly come out of this with a mountain of bills, maybe no job to go back to,” Kring said.

"In April of last year, the food bank distributed probably around 900,000 pounds of food, and if we stay on the pace we're on right now, it will be about 1.6 million pounds this month." — John Sayles, The Vermont Food Bank

The Hinesburg Community Resource Center isn’t the only local food shelf that’s seen a jump in demand. John Sayles, CEO of the Vermont Foodbank, said the network of food shelves his organization supplies has seen traffic increase by anywhere from 40% to 100%.

“In April of last year, the food bank distributed probably around 900,000 pounds of food,” Sayles said. “And if we stay on the pace we’re on right now, it will be about 1.6 million pounds this month.”

A survey conducted by the University of Vermont found that the number of food-insecure households jumped by 33% during the first few weeks of the coronavirus pandemic

Sayles said he fears the worst is yet to come.

  • 33%: The amount by which the number of food-insecure households in Vermont increased during the first few weeks of the pandemic, according to a recent UVM survey
  • 40%-100%: The amount by which supplies traffic at the Vermont Food Bank's member food shelves has increased since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic
  • 900,000 pounds: The amount of food the Vermont Food Bank distributed in April, 2019
  • 1.6 million pounds: The amount of food the Vermont Food Bank is on track to distribute in April 2020

“Depending on what the new normal is, I think we’re seeing at least a year tail for people who are food insecure, and maybe longer,” Sayles said.
Jenney Samuelson, who serves as the Agency of Human Services’ point person at the state’s COVID-19 Emergency Operations Center, said Vermont has developed a “mass feeding plan” to address the problem.

“The plan that we have developed that we are calling the mass feeding plan is exactly that — that in this unprecedented time of COVID, [we are] ensuring that individuals and communities around Vermont have the resources that they need to ensure that everyone is well-fed,” Samuelson said.

For an up-to-date list of organizations seeking volunteers or offering help across Vermont, head here.

Samuelson said the state will have to scale up food supplies and transportation logistics to ensure it meets the new demand.

Sayles said those plans include new modes of food distribution.

“You’ve seen on the news in some other cities some large car-based distributions at strategic spots around the state. We’re actually working on plans for that now,” Sayles said.

Samuelson said it’s not clear yet how much the mass feeding plan will cost, but she said the state expects the Federal Emergency Management Agency will pick up a significant share of the cost.

Kring said small organizations like hers are going to need the help.

“Right now we’re treading water and we’re prepared and we’re doing it,” Kring said. “But it’s a little scary feeling like a small organization like ours is going to be responsible for so much, potentially.”

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