New COVID Support VT Workshop Aims to Destigmatize 3SquaresVT 

About a third of Vermonters don’t have enough money to put food on the table, according to a UVM study. Yet, only about 1 in 10 state residents are receiving food assistance through the federally funded program known as 3SquaresVT. One big reason for that gap is stigma.

A new free workshop from COVID Support VT tackles the stigma of food insecurity from the grassroots level. Facilitators from Hunger Free Vermont’s Food Security Team will train community members and social-service providers how to recognize when folks may be struggling with food access and how to share food-assistance information positively and appropriately with those who could benefit.

Register for our 3SquaresVT Community Training workshop | Wednesday, October 27th

3SquaresVT is a statewide program that gives people money every month to buy groceries. Participants receive an EBT (for Electronic Benefit Transfer) card that works just like a debit or credit card. They can use it at grocery stores and many other stores for food purchases. Even Vermont’s ubiquitous farmers markets accept EBT. As an added plus, when 3SquaresVT participants spend $10 in benefits at a farmers market, they receive $10 in Crop Cash to purchase fresh, healthy produce directly from local farmers.  

“3SquaresVT enables people to buy the food they want when they want it, and from where they want,” says Alex Karambelas, project director for COVID Support VT. “This has earned 3SquaresVT a reputation as the most effective and dignified hunger-relief program in Vermont. We know more Vermonters could use this help right now.”

Covid-Related Hardships Exacerbate Food Insecurity

Even before Covid hit our state, many Vermonters were going hungry. Pandemic-related economic hardships have exacerbated the problem significantly. A UVM study has tracked the food security of 441 Vermonters since the pandemic began. It found that 62 percent of people who were struggling to put food on the table in March 2020 were still struggling a year later. About half of those surveyed have experienced some level of work disruption ranging from reduced hours or income to job loss since Covid restrictions began. Almost one in five (18 percent) were still experiencing work disruptions as of March 2021. Job loss or income reduction puts people at risk for food insecurity due to financial hardship.

“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.” (Read the full article.)

~ Ivy Enoch, Food Security Specialist at Hunger Free Vermont

Stereotypes, Stigma Around Food Assistance Persist

Increasing enrollment in 3SquaresVT 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. 

Prominent among these barriers is the stereotypical Vermont stoicism and self-sufficiency, food security advocates say. In addition, families who aren’t used to receiving support may be less likely to ask for it. They may not know where to go for help. Some people don’t want others to know they need help, and small towns challenge that. In still other cases, people think “others” need the help more than they do. 

 “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….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.” (Read the full article.)

~ Ivy Enoch, Food Security Specialist at Hunger Free Vermont

It’s more important than ever to address food insecurity urgently, as some temporary programs related to Covid relief funds are ending. That includes the Farmers to Families program that has been active here in Vermont.  But 3SquaresVT will remain in our state to support our communities and help stretch the food budgets of tens of thousands of Vermonters each month, Enoch says. 

Join the 3SquaresVT Community Training workshop | Wednesday, October 27th:

Access to Food as a Determinant of Health

Access to healthy, nutritious meals is a critical factor in general health and well-being. As such, it is one of the most important social determinants of health, a term used in public health to describe how one’s environment and living circumstances affect health and susceptibility to disease. The federal Healthy People 2020 guidelines for improving the health of Americans underscored the critical role of food security:

“Adults who are food insecure may be at an increased risk for a variety of negative health outcomes and health disparities. For example, a study found that food-insecure adults may be at an increased risk for obesity. Another study found higher rates of chronic disease in low-income, food-insecure adults between the ages of 18 and 65. Food-insecure children may also be at an increased risk for a variety of negative health outcomes, including obesity. They also face a higher risk of developmental problems compared with food-secure children. In addition, reduced frequency, quality, variety, and quantity of consumed foods may have a negative effect on children’s mental health.”

~ Healthy People 2020 section on Food Insecurity (see original for references)

Learn More and Find Food Resources

Join the October 27th 3SquaresVT Community Training with Hunger Free Vermont to learn how to recognize people who may be struggling with food security, how to identify if stigma is a barrier, and how to share information about the food-assistance program positively and appropriately.

Find comprehensive county-specific guides to food-distribution and food-assistance sites at, in a new section devoted to Vermont Food-Distribution Resources. (Five counties are currently covered, with more being added.)

Read our Guest Blog by Ivy Enoch, Food Security Specialist at Hunger Free Vermont: “Getting 3SquaresVT, Vermont’s Most Effective and Dignified Hunger Relief Program.”

Learn more about how access to healthy food affects health in Healthy People 2020, Food Insecurity section, from the U.S. Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion.Find out more about how you can help spread the word about 3SquaresVT with the Outreach Toolkit at, a partnership between Hunger Free Vermont and the Vermont Food Bank.

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Blog written by Brenda Patoine on behalf of VCN/Vermont Care Partners for COVID Support Vermont, a grant funded by FEMA and the Vermont Department of Mental Health

Need to Talk?

Call 2-1-1 (in Vermont) for assistance.

In Crisis? 

If you or someone you care for is experiencing thoughts of suicide or self-harm, you can: call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-825; text VT to 741741 to connect with a Crisis Counselor 24/7; connect with your local community mental health center for 24/7 support. 

Find Help

Find resources and tools for coping with stress at

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Find your local community mental health center by visiting Vermont Care Partners.

COVID Support VT is funded by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and Federal Emergency Management Agency, managed by Vermont’s Department of 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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