RUTLAND—The charitable and emergency food system plays an important role in the safety net for Vermonters struggling to put enough food on their tables. On Jan. 9 Hunger Free Vermont’s Hunger Council of Rutland County met for the fourth time since its inaugural meeting in March of 2016. Twenty members were in attendance at the Gorge Room at Green Mountain College in Poultney to discuss what they and their organizations have been doing since the last meeting to contribute to the food safety net in Rutland and the surrounding communities. Chairing the meeting was Pastor John Longworth of the Good Shepherd Lutheran Church.
The members shared a number of initiatives that are working to get food to the people. There are community dinners at local churches—including an effort to package 2,000 servings of pasta-style dinners at the Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, and BROC’s Feed the Freezer program that prepares frozen casseroles that are microwavable, and cooking demo programs being set up at pick-up sites for gleaned vegetables and at food pantries.
Green Mountain College student David Carlino also presented his idea for an event that would support more home-cooking and more nutrition knowledge. Elizabeth Eddy from BROC-Community Action in Southwestern Vermont noted that more vegetables are being taken at the food pantry, so they are offering more cooking demos on vegetables that might be new for recipients. Eddy also said that housing insecurity is leading to daily requests for pots, pans, and cooking utensils.
In addition to the efforts of the charitable food system, the council shifted gears to discuss the other areas of the nutrition safety net. Rev. David Adams of Poultney Food Care Partners announced that Poultney Elementary received a $9,000 grant from the Vermont Agency of Agriculture to work towards implementing Universal Free School Meals through the federal
Community Eligibility Program. Hunger Free Vermont will work with the school to help them implement this model in the 2017-2018 school year. Universal Free School Meals means that all children in the school can eat the school lunch for free, eliminating segregation in the cafeteria. This model is proven to eliminate unpaid student meal debts, increase participation leading to lower per-plate cost, and reduce student hunger, leading to improved student nutrition, health, and learning.
The council also identified summer as a particularly high-need season and is dedicated to working to increase the number of sites in Rutland County and increase awareness about sites that already exist. A summer meals sub-committee was suggested and nine members signed up to join this committee.
First on the agenda is to plan a “summer meals kickoff” event similar to others that take place around the state. Ginger Farineau and Becca Mitchell of Hunger Free Vermont shared the success of kick-off events in Newport and Milton, where hundreds of people attend. They are big summer events for community, serving free meals for families and offering “fair-type” activities, bringing a lot of publicity to the summer meal programs. The council’s summer meals sub-committee will work in the coming months to have a kick-off event just after school ends this June.
Council membership is open to anyone with an interest in combating food insecurity in their community. Launched in March 2016, thanks to grant support from both Hills & Hollows Fund and the Berkshire Bank Foundation, the Hunger Council of Rutland County has helped support the growth of federal nutrition programs feeding Vermonters, and helped to spread awareness of hunger in the community. The next quarterly Hunger Council of Rutland County meeting will be held on March 20 at the Rutland Regional Medical Center in Rutland.