Local News

Vermont Foodbank sees fewer donors, fundraising slows

“Pack to Give Back” event in Rutland prepares 500 boxes for those in need

By Robin Alberti

RUTLAND — The Vermont Foodbank hosted its first ever “Pack to Give Back” event in Rutland at its new distribution center located on Park St. on Monday, Dec 15. The event was sponsored in partnership with local businesses, schools, churches, food shelves and community organizations, including the Rutland Area Farm and Food Link (RAFFL), which distributes local produce through its gleaning program during harvest season. Gleaning is the act of collecting leftover crops from farmers’ fields after they have been commercially harvested or on fields where it is not economically profitable to harvest.

In attendance at “Pack to Give Back” was Rutland’s Mayor Christopher Louras, Kate Ash from Senator Leahy’s office, business leaders, students from area schools, and community members.

Volunteers packed 500 holiday food boxes for Rutland residents in need of food. They began packing the boxes at 10 a.m. and had packed all 500 boxes before 11 a.m. The boxes of food will be distributed through local food shelves, including BROC, our Neighbors Table, Hubbardton-Castleton Food Shelf, Rutland Community Cupboard, Fair Haven Concerned, Rutland City Rescue Mission, and Pittsford Food Shelf.

The demand for food, however, is higher than the donations, the food shelf reported in a recent release. With 43 percent fewer donors, the Vermont Foodbank still needed to raise $1.2 million with just two weeks left in 2014 in order to continue providing services to Vermonters in need. Compared to last year, the Foodbank has seen a serious decline in the number of donors who contribute to the mission of ensuring that no one in Vermont goes hungry.

“It’s disconcerting,” said Christine Foster, Vermont Foodbank’s chief development officer about the decline in donors. “Our critical work relies on the generosity of individuals. In fact, more than 70 percent of our funds come from concerned Vermonters and less than 2 percent comes from state funding. We can only do our work with statewide, community support.”

John Sayles, Vermont Foodbank CEO, echoed the concern, saying, “I hear frequently from our food shelf and meal site partners that they can’t keep food on the shelves, that more new families are requesting help every day, and that the stories of struggle continue to pour in from people who are working hard but can’t seem to make ends meet,” said Sayles. “The work we are doing is impacting the lives of one in four Vermonters—which is unprecedented. We are the linchpin to many of our customers’ food security—without the Foodbank many more Vermonters would go hungry.”

The Vermont Foodbank opened its doors in Barre in 1986 in response to the growing problem of hunger in the state. The concept of the organization was to rescue food that would otherwise be wasted, and share it with people who were in need of nutritious food.  With the support of neighbors, friends and business owners, the Vermont Food Bank is able to secure large quantities of food and non-food products to distribute statewide through a network of service providers. Six years ago a satellite location was opened in Brattleboro and a new facility is now located in Rutland with over 24,000 square feet of space to help distribute food to the under-served areas of Rutland and Addison Counties.

In a recent interview with The Mountain Times, Sayles explained that it took a little over two years to find the right location in Rutland, and therefore is especially enthusiastic about its opening. “We are here to support what is already happening in the area. Our goal is to work in unison with the groups that are already here.  We want to create sustainability statewide.”

Sue Vasset, from Rutland Community Cupboard, said. “So many more working families need help. Lots of people have to care for relatives, or children with special needs, which limits their ability to work.”

Many of these folks are already are on food stamps (called 3Squares in Vermont).

The Vermont Food Bank also points people in the direction of other services that are available. “Another way we help is by distributing information on nutrition. We can help families by teaching them how to cook nutritious meals and stretch their food dollars,” Vasset added. 

Accessibility is a huge hurdle for many Vermonters. “In the past, Senior Commodity Boxes had to be picked up at the Vermont State Fair Grounds in Rutland once a month.  If people could not make that one pick-up day they would miss out,” Vasset explained.  Now BROC has taken over distribution to provide more accessibility. They can deliver boxes directly to seniors, or offer other pick-up days and times.

The Vermont Foodbank is the state’s largest hunger-relief organization, serving Vermont through a network of 270 food shelves, meal sites, shelters, senior centers and youth programs. In FY2014, the Vermont Foodbank distributed nearly 9 million pounds of food to 153,100 Vermonters. For more information or to make a donation to those in need, visit www.vtfoodbank.org/give.

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