County groups unite in anti-hunger effort

MIDDLEBURY — State officials often credit Addison County with having one of the best human services networks in the state.
Representatives of that network will be meeting on March 18 to explore ways of making it even better.
At issue is a proposal to create a “Hunger Council of Addison County.” The idea is that representatives of local hunger-fighting agencies would meet four times per year as a council, sharing information about how to make their respective programs more effective in supplying food to the growing number of people who need it.
According to the organization Hunger Free Vermont, almost 3,800 Addison County residents receive benefits under 3SquaresVT, the program formerly known as Food Stamps. One in six Addison County children doesn’t get enough to eat and 34 percent of local grade school and high school students are eligible for free or reduced-price meals.
In addition, food shelves run by area clergy and organizations like Helping Overcome Poverty’s Effects (HOPE) are quickly depleting their supplies and always looking for donations. A series of regular free lunches and dinners offered by the Middlebury Community Care Coalition is very well attended.
“I think the need is as large (this year compared to previous years), if not larger, based on what’s going on with the economy,” said Community Care Coalition Treasurer Frank Mazza, a former longtime worker with the Vermont Department of Social Welfare.
Addison Community Action (ACA) officials said the organization’s food shelf served 208 households in January, the most it has served in that month for at least the past 13 years.
Middlebury resident and attorney Emily Joselson has also noticed the need. The law firm for which she works — Langrock, Sperry & Wool — recently celebrated its 50th anniversary with some charitable donations. One of the beneficiaries was Hunger Free Vermont. It’s an organization the firm continues to support, all the while learning about Hunger Free Vermont’s strategies for getting food to low-income households.
“In attending some of their programs, I learned that there are Hunger Councils that Hunger Free Vermont supports in four or five other counties,” Joselson said. “The purpose of the council is to support the good anti-hunger work that’s going on in those counties already and not to supplant them or create any new bureaucracy that is not going to be helpful.”
Joselson thought Addison County might benefit from having its own Hunger Council, to bring together people who are already doing this work to compare notes and strategize on joint efforts to accomplish their goals more effectively.
Some of the benefits of having a county Hunger Council would include:
•  Identifying cost savings, economies of scale and partnership opportunities.
•  Exploring grants and other financial resources.
•  Sharing information about local or statewide hunger fighting initiatives.
Participants in the council might include individuals, clergy and such organizations as HOPE, ACA, the Parent-Child Center of Addison County and the United Way of Addison County.
There are currently established Hunger Councils in Washington, Chittenden and Windham counties, and in the Lamoille Valley. Hunger Council members were instrumental in expanding access to 3SquaresVt within their respective counties, and they successfully lobbied for legislation to provide food to low-income children at schools, summer camps and after-school programs.
Karen Haury, director of ACA, said she will be an enthusiastic participant in the Hunger Council.
“I think it’s very important,” she said. “It is another way to spread the word so people know what’s out there for them.”
The Hunger Council of Addison County kick-off meeting will be held from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. at the Counseling Service of Addison County building at 109 Exchange St. in Middlebury. Anyone seeking more information about the meeting should contact Anore Horton at 802-865-0255, or at [email protected].
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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