Arts, Dining & Entertainment

Vermont Everyone Eats program comes to a close

Innovative pandemic meal program ends, gives rise to new local initiatives

After 32 months, seven program extensions, and over 3.6 million meals distributed, the Vermont Everyone Eats (VEE) pandemic relief program ended on March 31.

Between August 2020 and March 2023, VEE has benefited tens of thousands of Vermonters by providing economic stabilization for independent restaurants, strengthening their relationships with farmers and food producers, and contributing significantly to statewide anti-hunger efforts during a time when food insecurity hit record highs.

With its unique cross-sector approach engaging local restaurants in providing prepared meals with Vermont ingredients for community members in need, the Vermont Everyone Eats program leveraged over $46 million in federal Covid-19 relief funding.

According to Elizabeth Schuster, environmental economist, VEE’s multiplier effect—recirculating a single federal dollar across multiple local businesses—has likely catalyzed as much as $66 million in additional local spending.

At the start of the Covid-19 emergency, state agency representatives, local and regional anti-hunger advocates, and economic development organizations established this innovative, wide-scale, multi-sector emergency response. 

“The extraordinary impact of Vermont Everyone Eats was made possible by unprecedented collaboration among various entities across the state. The value of a multi-sector approach in efficiently combining efforts and resources informs a compelling model for future efforts,“ said Amanda Witman, communications and stakeholder engagement coordinator for Vermont Everyone Eats.

With multiple state and federal benefit programs ending or decreasing, and the economic challenges of the pandemic still lingering, it is a difficult time for many individuals and businesses. But the successes of VEE are spurring local partnerships to develop new ways to address community needs and creatively driving conversations around what comes next.  

“Vermont Everyone Eats’ Covid-19 efforts are coming to a close, but the innovation is still  a-going strong,” said VEE Task Force member Stephanie Bonin. “VEE showed us that our impact can be huge when we come together to meet our collective needs. I am excited to keep restaurant entrepreneurs, chefs, and staff in the food security conversation, because we are a powerhouse for change.”

The VEE Task Force, in partnership with the Vermont Community Foundation, has funded several local initiative pilot projects to carry forward elements of the VEE model. The VEE momentum is also fueling other initiatives in communities across the state. Some examples: 

Senior Solutions, Chester Helping Hands, and Springfield Family Center are collaborating to provide restaurant meals as a supplemental option for existing Meals on Wheels recipients in areas of Windsor County. 

The Giving Fridge, a Middlebury-based initiative launched in December 2020, will continue to distribute donation-funded meals via automated refrigerators and heated food lockers.

New Moon Catering in Burlington continues to raise funds through their business and recently received ARPA funding that will allow them to continue offering free meals in partnership with a local cafe.

Vermont Farmers Food Center has launched Rutland County Eats, a VEE-inspired program that will distribute 200 meals per week after VEE ends, funded by an online market where additional prepared meals are sold to the wider community. (See story below.)

The legacy of the VEE program continues through these and many other efforts. 

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During the Covid-19 pandemic, Vermont Everyone Eats provided nutritious meals to Vermonters in need of food assistance as well as a stabilizing source of income for Vermont restaurants, farmers, and food producers. Vermont Everyone Eats was funded through a contract provided by the Vermont Agency of Commerce and Community Development to Southeastern Vermont Community Action (SEVCA), made possible by over $46 million in federal FEMA funding supplemented with a $1.3 million allocation from the state legislature, and advised by a statewide task force including perspectives from restaurants, economic development, and hunger relief advocates.

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