Virtual Town Hall March 25 on Food Access in the Northeast Kingdom Features Local Groups

A lone woman in her kitchen quietly makes 40 meals for neighbors, asking nothing in return. Church pastors transform parish halls into meal-distribution centers. Restaurants make meals so everyone eats. Lunchboxes get to kids in school or not. Farm-to-school, food banks and food boxes, shelves, drives, drops. As the Covid pandemic slogs into year two, Vermonters have found creative ways to fight food insecurity in their communities. That’s certainly true in the Northeast Kingdom (NEK), where the rural culture can add additional hurdles to feeding your family.  

A Virtual Town Hall March 25 focuses on food insecurity and local efforts to mitigate it. Food Access in the Northeast Kingdom brings together people on the front lines and behind the scenes of local organizations supporting food access across Caledonia, Essex and Orleans Counties. This live webinar is geared toward service providers who want to better understand the food safety net in the NEK.

Access to Food Consistently Cited as Reason for Pandemic Stress and Support-Seeking

It’s no secret that Covid has made Vermont’s hunger problem worse. A lot worse. A UVM study found that nearly 30 percent of Vermonters were having trouble keeping food on the table. That was in September, just six months into the pandemic. It’s roughly triple the rate in 2018. In addition, food insecurity is among the most common reasons Vermonters access 2-1-1 services and counselors. 

Alida Farrell has come face-to-face with these challenges as food access coordinator for Green Mountain Farm to School. “The pandemic has really shone a light on the issues around food insecurity that have always been present in the NEK, but have been exacerbated by this pandemic,” says Farrell, who is one of the speakers at the March 25 Town Hall. “Our local communities have really stood up and come together in a way they never have before.”

“It’s been heartening to see the community resilience that Covid-19 has brought out in our communities. I think that is going to be one of things that [persists] after the emergency is over, and we will all be better for it.”

~Alida Farrell, Green Mountain Farm to School

Tapping Vermont’s Restaurants and Rich Farm Network to Feed Children and Families

Green Mountain Farm to School taps into Vermont’s agricultural network to bring fresh farm products directly to children and families. In addition, Farrell helps link local farms to restaurants participating in the state’s Everyone Eats program. That system pays restaurants $10 a meal to prepare healthy meals for people who need them. State law requires that at least 10 percent of the ingredients be locally sourced. Many restaurants use more when they have easy access to farms, Farrell says.

Northeast Kingdom Food Safety Net: Are Working Families Falling Through?

The NEK’s food-safety net is as diverse as the Kingdom itself. Belinda Edelman is a food access coordinator at Northeast Kingdom Community Action. She estimates that about 50 different entities in three counties are providing food for those in need at some scale, including four food shelves run by NEKCA.  They range from small and intimate, like the steadfastly anonymous woman in Orleans County making meals for neighbors, to larger state-supported systems like Meals on Wheels.

Even with this wide net, Edelman worries that working families may be falling through the holes. The stereotypical Vermont stoicism and self-sufficiency may be one factor. In other words, “the whole stigma thing,” as she puts it. Families who aren’t used to receiving support may be less likely to ask for it or know where to go for help. They may think others need the help more. Some people don’t want others to know they need help; small towns challenge that. 

Stereotypes, Stigma Around Food Assistance Persist; State Campaign Takes Aim at Barriers

One consequence is that Vermonters are not using Three Squares Vermont, the federally funded food-assistance program, “to the capacity they could be or should be,” Edelman says. 

“As a state, we’re known for agriculture and healthy food, a lot of which is produced right here. Yet too many Vermonters can’t enjoy it or afford to enjoy the healthy benefits of it. Three Squares is a way to help all Vermonters access the bounty that is here and have a healthy diet.”

~ Barbara Edelman, Northeast Kingdom Community Action

Increasing enrollment in Three Squares is one key to improving food access for Vermonters. Hunger Free Vermont and the Vermont Food Bank have partnered on a statewide initiative to change the way people talk about the program formerly known as food stamps. A public outreach campaign with the tag line “Everyone Deserves a Bite” seeks to address the stigma head on and break down the barriers to food access. Hunger Free Vermont’s Ivy Enoch will describe the program at the March 25 Town Hall.

Virtual Town Hall Series Aims to Connect Vermonters to Community Resources 

Food Access in the Northeast Kingdom is the latest in the Town Hall series of COVID Support VT. The federally funded organization helps Vermonters cope with pandemic-related anxiety and stress. It does so through education, emotional support, and connections to community resources. The goal is to promote resilience, empowerment and ultimately, recovery from the Covid crisis. 

Contributing partners for the March 25 Town Hall, Food Access in the Northeast Kingdom, include


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COVID Support VT is funded by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and Federal Emergency Management Agency, managed by Vermont’s Departments of Emergency Management and Mental Health, and administered by Vermont Care Partners, a statewide network of 16 non-profit community-based agencies providing mental health, substance use, and intellectual and developmental disability services and supports. 

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