By Brooke Geery
One of the most notable programs to came out of the federal CARES act in Vermont is Everyone Eats. Using $5 million in coronavirus relief dollars, the Southeastern Vermont Community Action Agency launched hubs across the state where those experiencing food insecurity could pick up restaurant-prepared meals a few times per week.
In Rutland, the giveaways are held Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays at the Farmers’ Food Center in Rutland. Organizer Harry DiPrinzio takes great pride in not just the amount, but the quality food they have been able to provide to the community. In addition to being prepared by professional chefs, the program requires restaurants to source 10% of their food locally to support Vermont farms and agriculture.
“It’s a pretty unique program in that the food is pretty great. I don’t think there’s another food relief program of this kind in the country that you can get food like this. I’m proud of the fact that we’re providing quality meals that people are able to access on a regular basis,” he said.
The program has grown quickly since its start in August. They’d initially planned to give away 1,500 meals a week, staring with 800 the first week.
“Very quickly we realized we could distribute many more. We are distributing 2,900 meals this week,” DiPrinzio said.
In addition to meals given away at the Vermont Farmers’ Food Center, there are five additional distribution sites in Rutland County, thanks to folks in each town who have taken on the responsibility.
For the restaurants involved, the benefit is two fold.
“We thought it would really help,” Little Haveli owner Rena Harchind said. “It was good for us to be able to help them and it’s really good for us to get the marketing. People will come try out more of our food, so both ways it’s been good. Our community helps us a lot so we wanted to help them too.”
In addition to Little Haveli, meals in Rutland come from Ana’s Empanadas, Roots, The Rollin’ Rooster, Taso on Center, Bueno Burrito and Mama Tamara Cucina Italiana. Though Diprinzio said he hasn’t specifically heard from any restaurants about growth in their business due to the program, he did point out Rollin’ Rooster and Mama Tamara are both in the process of opening brick and mortar locations.
Food distribution begins at 4 p.m., and those who rely on it know to get there early.
“Pace does vary but we’ve seen more folks as the word has gotten out further,” DiPrinzio said. “There is still quite a rush at 4 p.m. We have run out sometimes, but we try very hard to match the anticipated demand and have meals for everyone who wants them.”
In Rutland, Everyone Eats has distributed over 16,000 meals as of Oct. 26, and expects to distribute over 21,000 more before the end of the program on Dec. 11.
Unfortunately, future funding for the program rests firmly on the shoulders of bureaucrats.
“We would absolutely love to be able to continue operating the program,” he said. “We’ve received so much positive feedback from folks picking up meals and restaurants alike. It’s just totally dependent on budget. The state would have to approve more funding.”
In the meantime, DiPrinzio and other volunteers will continue to provide as many meals as possible, including on Election Day.
“We’re planning on serving some food at polling sites in Rutland on election day,” he said. “We will have meals available at each of the four main polling sites in Rutland until we run out.”