By Katy Savage
As employees are out of work and students are out of school due to state-mandated closures, Vermonters are stepping up to help others in need.
A handful of Rutland residents created Rutland County Mutual Aid, a website to connect people who need help with volunteers in light of the coronavirus. Within an hour, Tabitha Pohl-Moore, one of the organizers, had 60 volunteers sign up. By Monday, May 16, she had nearly 300.
“It was amazing,” Pohl-Moore said.
There are volunteers in nearly all 28 Rutland County towns available to help people with anything from emotional support, medical advocacy, peer-to-peer counseling and grocery shopping.
Pohl-Moore said eight residents had requested services as of Monday—many asking for volunteers to pick up groceries and supplies for them.
“I feel honored to work alongside amazing local community organizers,” said Erica Zimmer, one of the organizers. “We are very lucky in this area to have such a great group of people who know how to mobilize in a time of need. This is going to be a very difficult time for our most vulnerable and resource insecure families.”
Another Facebook group, Rutland Responds— initially created during Tropical Storm Irene in 2011—was revived to give Rutland-area residents up-to-date information about the virus.
“With the potential for need rising in the greater Rutland area, we’re brushing the dust off this page and providing a place for those in need to come together with those willing to help and support,” a post on the page read. “Just as we saw in Rutland County (and Vermont as a whole) in 2011, the strength of our citizens can lessen the impact and hardship on others.”
Some have created virtual communities for kids.
As schools have been shut down until at least April 6, Brandon resident Colleen Wright created Virus Performers, a Facebook group for teens and children who are stuck at home to share their artwork and performance talents.
Over 100 people joined the group overnight. Many have posted videos of themselves singing songs, playing instruments, practicing yoga and drawing self-portraits.
Wright said the group was especially important since theater performances and concerts have been called off.
“We’ve got all this talent in this area and they were all scheduled to do these great things and the rug was pulled out from under them,” said Wright, who also heads Brandon Recreation Center.
Wright called the school closures disappointing but necessary.
“Our best result is going to be nothing—nobody gets sick, nobody dies, it’s just going to be boring,” Wright said.
Towns are also stepping in to help.
Wright is part of a group of about 40 volunteers in Brandon who have organized to help people in need.
“It’s kind of of like hurricane Irene, except we have germs instead of water,” Wright said.
There are also drop boxes for food donations outside of the Brandon Town Hall and town office for perishable items. To set up a home delivery of food items, contact Kathy Mathis at 247-6720 or email [email protected]
The Woodstock Emergency Management team, a 45-person volunteer group, is also ready to get groceries for those in need.
“We’re focusing on vulnerable populations—to enable those folks to stay in their house,” Woodstock Fire Chief David Green said.
The Woodstock Emergency Management team can be reached at (802) 457-7516,
Pomfret has organized similar efforts.
Pomfret has 13 volunteers signed up to shop for anyone who’s self-quarantine or self-isolated, said Pomfret Fire Chief Kevin Rice.
Rice has been personally calling vulnerable citizens.
“I’m finding many of them don’t have internet access or don’t use the internet,” he said.
Rice said volunteers will shop for people and leave groceries on their doorstep with the receipt.
“If they choose to pay us, that’s great, but if they can’t, that’s OK too,” Rice said.
Rice said the fire department was prepared to use relief funds to pay grocery bills if needed.
“If and when we start to get to the point where we need (more) money, I’m ready to pull the trigger on a GoFundMe account,” Rice said. “Our town always steps up when needed—that’s one of things about living in a small rural town in Vermont.”
Those in need or those willing to volunteer can reach Rice by phone at 802-356-7643 or email at [email protected]
Hunger organizations are anticipating changes in needs.
Hunger Free Vermont is anticipating an increase in the number of people seeking assistance.
“A lot of people who have never applied to or needed support before might find that they need it now because they’ve been laid off or their hours have been reduced,” said Hunger Free Vermont Executive Director Anore Horton. “It’s very predictable that people are going to lose household income for a period of time.”
As hundreds of resort workers were without work for a week, Killington Resort gave out two tractor trailers full of food to Killington and Pico staff on Tuesday, March 17 and Wednesday, March 18. The resort also donated food to Killington Elementary School.
Meanwhile, food shelves are not letting people inside their doors to avoid the spread of germs. They are instead requesting those in need to call the food shelf ahead of time. Food shelf volunteers will have food available for pick up outside in a tent or deliver it to cars in the parking lots.
Bennington-Rutland Opportunity Council CEO Tom Donahue said the organization is taking extra precautions to keep the area free of contamination and open to the public.
“We want to be able to continue our critical services,” he said.
Donohue said many new people showed up on Monday, March 16 because they were anticipating future hunger needs.
“We had a lot of new folks coming today that were concerned about the virus situation,” he said.
As grocery stores face shortages, Donohue said food shelves could see food shortages as well.
Donohue said BROC gets a delivery of free groceries every morning from the local grocery stores, but he’s not sure how long supplies will be available.
Donohue started a GoFundMe for the food shelf in anticipation that the food shelf will have to purchase food from different sources.
BROC will continue to take intakes for fuel, electric and housing assistance by phone.
“If people are laid off, if more kids are at home, we’re expecting to see more demand,” Donohue said. “We will be stepping up to that.”