Editor’s Note: Ivy Enoch is a Food Security Specialist at Hunger Free Vermont, an education and advocacy organization. Their mission is to end the injustice of hunger and malnutrition for all Vermonters. Ivy’s work focuses on outreach and education around 3SquaresVT, an important federal nutrition program. To learn more, visit vermontfoodhelp.com, or text ‘VFBSNP’ to 85511. 

For twelve long months COVID-19 has interrupted all of our lives: shut-downs, stay-at-home orders, the need to reimagine how to exist safely as a community. As you know, the virus’s impact is far-reaching, and has had devastating financial and emotional consequences. One of the greatest hardships has been safe and reliable access to food.

Pandemic Pushes One in Three Vermonters Into Food Insecurity

We all deserve reliable and convenient access to nutritious, culturally appropriate food, especially during a pandemic. Yet, too many people in Vermont aren’t afforded this right. Prior to the onset of this devastating pandemic, one in ten Vermonters experienced food insecurity. That’s roughly parallel to the national average. The staggering impact of COVID-19 has left one in three food insecure. One is too many. One in three is an injustice. 

Learn More: As Pandemic Compounds Food Insecurity in Vermont, Locals Step Up to Fight Hunger

Food insecurity affected our communities long before March 2020. But the pandemic revealed how many of us are a paycheck away from experiencing hunger. Food insecurity does not stem from a shortage of food but from systemic barriers. These include lack of access to fair wages, affordable healthcare, housing, and education, and policies that systematically exclude certain populations. COVID-19 has had an alarming and disproportionate impact on women, families with children, and BIPOC. People of color are four times more likely to experience food insecurity compared to white people.

3SquaresVT: Food Access with Dignity and Reliability, When and Where Families Need It

Hunger Free Vermont has worked throughout the pandemic to make certain everyone in Vermont is able to access the food they need in dignified ways. We take a multi-pronged approach to this work. We collaborate with state agencies and Vermont’s congressional delegation to expand and protect important nutrition programs. And we partner with organizations across the state that work directly with community members. We also produce outreach materials to communicate food resources available across the state that serve as vital temporary relief. These include USDA Farmers to Families food box distribution sites, Everyone Eats hubs, and food-delivery programs for housebound community members. In addition to these efforts, increasing access to and awareness of 3SquaresVT is a top priority.

Win-Win: 3SquaresVT Feeds Vermonters, Infuses Federal Money Locally

Some of these food-assistance programs are temporary, related to COVID-19 relief funds. But 3SquaresVT will always remain in our state to support our communities. Known nationally as SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), 3SquaresVT helps stretch the food budgets of tens of thousands of Vermonters each month. We know that one in three people in Vermont have had a hard time buying groceries during the pandemic. Yet only one in ten are enrolled in 3SquaresVT. Many more are eligible and not accessing this important program.

Everyone who is eligible to receive 3SquaresVT benefits will get them with an approved application. A number of organizations in Vermont can help people through the entire application process. 

You will not be taking benefits away from anyone else if you apply. In fact, when you use 3SquaresVT, you help our whole state’s economy. In January of this year alone, $10.8 million dollars in 3SquaresVT benefits stayed in our state.  

Stretching Food Budgets and Easing Stress for Vermont Families

It’s your money that you’ve earned. You’ve paid into 3SquaresVT through your taxes and you may be eligible to receive it to pay for your groceries. And, shopping with 3SquaresVT ensures that you get food where and when you want. Once enrolled, you will receive a Vermont EBT card that can be used like a debit card at participating grocery and convenience stores and farmers markets. Every time you spend 3SquaresVT benefits on groceries you send those dollars to local food retailers who create  jobs in the community and to local farmers who produce food for our state.

Programs like 3SquaresVT can help families stretch their budgets and have less stress around meeting financial responsibilities. If you or someone you know is having a hard time making ends meet, please look into 3SquaresVT. Access the support that is deserved and needed during this unprecedented time. To learn more, visit vermontfoodhelp.com, or text ‘VFBSNP’ to 85511. 

Join Ivy Enoch and other local food-access experts at a Virtual Town Hall March 25 focused 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.

Learn More: As Pandemic Compounds Food Insecurity in Vermont, Locals Step Up to Fight Hunger

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