By Curt Peterson
KILLINGTON—According to John Sayles, CEO of the Vermont Food Bank, “One in four Vermonters will visit a food bank in the next year.” Quick math tells us roughly 150,000 people will seek help with food security at one of the 215 VFB partner food bank locations.
Sayles addressed 260 attendees at the 13th annual Vermont Food Bank conference at the Grand Resort Hotel in Killington last Friday, May 3, a day-long event including speakers and various work sessions.
Killington has been the conference venue for the past five years – previous events have been in Burlington, Lake Morey and Montpelier.
“We’ve found Killington to be a great central location for our statewide network to convene,” Director of Communications and Public Affairs Nicole Whalen told the Mountain Times.
Sayles said that poverty, different kinds of personal trauma, financial insecurity, housing, diet and physical health are intertwined. The Food Bank addresses the food issue, but has to consider other elements in the poverty cycle as well when creating spaces, designing distribution systems and training volunteers and employees.
“We have to be innovative,” Sayles said, “and willing to try new things, to keep trying in the face of failure. The food banks need to be an off-ramp from the trauma cycle.”
Sayles and Joe Dauscher, VFB network relations manager, bestowed the Bonnie Pease Service Award, an annual honor for exceptional contributions to food security, to Carol Shelby, volunteer at the Sharon Foodshelf. For fifteen years Carol and her husband, Howard, have invested their time and energy at the Foodshelf at “The Lighthouse,” the former parsonage across the road from the Sharon Congregational Church.
Dr. Ken Epstein delivered the keynote address, “Relational Healing in the Time of Evidence.”
In 2018 Dr. Epstein retired as director of the Children, Youth and Family System of Care for San Francisco’s Behavioral Health Services, and has previously held positions in clinical and administrative leadership.
His message focused on organizational changes needed to promote healing from “a system that creates barriers to care, burden on consumers, and stress for caregivers and the workforce,” according to the VFB program.
The first step is for caregivers to become well-informed about the cycle of poverty, trauma and food insecurity, Epstein said. In other words, volunteers and staff members have to heal themselves in order to relate to, and help heal, those whom they serve.
He said small ideas are the tools for achieving the goals of big ideas, and the major goal in healing the current poverty/trauma cycle is to “create a system that fosters wellness and resilience for everyone” – care providers and recipients alike.
“Insecurity leads to toxic stress,” Dr. Epstein said, “which leads to serious health problems and to adverse childhood experiences, repeating the cycle.”
Epstein cited two photographs from media flood coverage. One depicted an African-American in waist-deep flood waters holding a trash bag full of belongings and a parcel in his hands, the unqualified caption alluding to “looting” during the disaster.
Another photo showed a Caucasian couple, also carrying packages through high water, captioned, “finding food.” Epstein said these photos/captions demonstrate structural racism.
“We need to be wired together to take collective action in order to change the system,” Dr. Epstein said. “We need to be reflective, to feel others’ pain as key to reducing our national trauma.”