By JOHN FLOWERS
MIDDLEBURY — During a typical August, Addison County Community Action Group’s (ACCAG) food shelf is usually as bare as Old Mother Hubbard’s cupboard.
But this is no typical August.
Thanks to a dream deal through which ACCAG was able to buy the inventory of two area discount food stores, many needy families in Addison County won’t have to worry about going hungry — at least through next spring.
“This means that when people come to us, we will have the confidence that we’ll be able to feed them,” ACCAG Executive Director Jeanne Montross said, as she gestured to some of the dozens of grocery-laden shopping carts that are still waiting to be unloaded in the agency’s Community Services Building on Boardman Street.
“It will be a while before the food shelf is bare again.”
Late last month Steve Pollinger called Montross, asking if ACCAG would be interested in acquiring — at a greatly reduced price — the remaining inventory of Middlebury Discount Foods and Fair Haven Discount Foods. Pollinger had run the stores for more than 14 years, and had decided to close them.
“ACCAG was a very loyal customer,” Pollinger said. “I wanted to give something back.”
Montross decided to go to the stores and determine whether the available groceries were nutritionally appropriate for ACCAG’s food shelf.
She immediately liked what she saw. There, laid out before her eyes, were aisles of non-perishable items, such as canned vegetables, cereal, sauces, rice dishes, pasta, cookies, baby food and assorted beverages.
“I thought there was a lot if useful stuff,” Montross said.
That stuff also included spices, ham glaze and sauces — things that are invariably in short supply at ACCAG when it’s time to assemble Thanksgiving and Christmas meal baskets.
“Not only are we getting a lot of food, but there are things that will make the holidays more special for people,” Montross said.
While Montross declined to state exactly what ACCAG paid for Pollinger’s inventory, she estimated the agency received more than $6,000 in groceries at a small fraction of their true retail cost.
Pollinger said he let the groceries go for about three cents on the dollar.
ACCAG was able to immediately pay for the groceries, thanks to money Addison County residents have been contributing toward the food shelf.
Members of ACCAG’s staff recently doubled as movers, stacking the groceries in boxes, carts and trailers for the move to Boardman Street. Montross said ACCAG’s haul included 36 shopping carts, each filled to the brim with groceries.
Some of those filled carts are still parked in offices and hallways in ACCAG’s headquarters. Much of the food has already been shrink-wrapped and stored.
The unanticipated bounty will allow ACCAG to dispense more food than the three-day allotments it currently gives to qualifying families. Eligible families must not earn more than 180 percent of the federal poverty level. That means a family of four cannot earn more than $3,000 per month.
Montross said the availability of extra no-cost food will be critical for needy families during this, a period of spiraling gas prices. An increasing number of people have been tapping ACCAG’s food shelf in response to higher household bills, according to Montross.
“We can now tell people to come here and get food, so they can use their money to get gas so they can get to work,” Montross said.
While ACCAG’s food shelf is currently bursting at the seams, Montross hopes the flow of community contributions does not come to a grinding halt. She explained that cash donations are important to help ACCAG buy protein-rich food that is always in short supply, such as tuna and peanut butter.
“We are very grateful to the people who have been steadily contributing and bringing in food,” Montross said.