Food shelves need a boost; HOPE issuing a challenge

MIDDLEBURY — Coordinators of Addison County’s food shelves are soliciting more donations to ensure that local low-income residents will be fed during the summer and into the fall, when various schools, civic groups and businesses will conduct their seasonal food drives to re-stock the shelves for the winter.
A check of the Helping Overcome Poverty’s Effects (HOPE) food shelf in Middlebury last week revealed a disconcertingly barren pantry. The nonprofit was down to four jars of peanut butter and one jar of jelly. Jeanne Montross, executive director of HOPE, said the food shelf was also lacking in juice, tuna fish, canned vegetables, rice and baking supplies.
“This is kind of scary,” Montross said as she toured the food shelf space in the Community Services Building on Boardman Street, where low-income residents can come to stock up on basic groceries when times are tough.
“To be this low on food this early in the summer is concerning,” she added.
On the brighter side, Montross has been pleased to see recent donations of fresh produce from local farms. But she is wondering how recent wet weather might affect the flow of surplus farm vegetables.
At this point, in early July, it’s all about meeting the need and stretching resources until the early-fall food drives kick in, noted Montross and other food shelf coordinators. In an effort to kick-start some donations, HOPE is hosting an Addison County Chamber of Commerce mixer next Thursday, July 16, from 5 to 7 p.m., and is encouraging participants to bring food shelf or cash donations.
Demand for food remains high, according to Montross.
During the 12-month period that ended on June 30, HOPE served a monthly average of 250 households. That translated into an average monthly total of 579 people.
HOPE’s food shelf served 2,275 people (a number that includes repeat visits) between May 1, 2014, and Aug. 30, 2014. Addison Community Action/Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity (ACA/CVOEO) served 1,299 people during that same timeframe. The ACA/CVOEO number also includes repeat visits.
Jan DeMers, executive director of CVOEO, said one in five youths in Addison County know hunger, and more than 3,500 Addison County residents participate in the 3SquaresVT program, formerly known as Food Stamps. Fortunately, there are 26 summer meal sites for children and 10 such sites for seniors throughout the county, DeMers noted.
Donna Rose is coordinator of the ACA/CVOEO food shelf. She noted a steady increase in food shelf clients during the recent recession, and said that flow has remained steady, with somewhat of a twist: Rose is noting a wider variety of clients, as opposed to a core group of regulars.
Rose echoed HOPE officials’ concern about the summer marking a slowdown in food drives that help sustain the larder reserves.
“There really is a lull,” she said.
Rose credited the Lions Club and the U.S. Postal Service for coming through this past spring with some successful food drives. And she said federal grant money is at this point holding up and helping ACA/CVOEO purchase food to help pick up the slack.
But, Rose added, “We could always use more help.”
Rebecca Price is coordinator of the Have a Heart Food Shelf in the lower level of St. Ambrose Catholic Church in Bristol. She said Have a Heart this past April ramped up its food distribution from one day per month to two. Price doubled the distribution days upon hearing that some of Have a Heart’s clients from the five-town area were also visiting a Vergennes food shelf.
“I think it has gone very well,” Price said of Have a Heart’s ramped-up operations.
Price estimates Have a Heart is dispensing food to around 50 families per month, representing 175 to 200 individuals. She credited “some very faithful monthly donors” for keeping the shelves stocked, and stressed the importance of food drives.
Unfortunately, she noted, the annual Postal Service food drive did not take place in the five-town area this year during Mother’s Day weekend.
“That really hurt us,” she said. Fortunately, Have a Heart benefitted from a special May 31 food drive that was very successful. And the Bristol Fire Department’s annual November food drive has been yielding around 2,000 pounds of food and should place Have a Heart in good shape for the winter.
All of the county’s food shelves are gratefully accepting donations of food or funds. And HOPE has issued a challenge that the organization Hunger Free Vermont has spearheaded in recent years: During the month of August, county residents will be asked to pick a week during which to try to live on a food shopping budget that 3SquaresVT clients must adhere to.
The 3SquaresVT guideline will be up to $5.16 per family member per day, which has to include all food and beverages. All food to be consumed must be purchased that week, except for spices and basic condiments. Relying on food grown in the garden is also not allowed, and free food from friends and neighbors should be avoided, according to Montross.
 Participants are encouraged to note their experiences during the week and then contribute the difference between their 3SquaresVT allowance and their regular weekly food budget to HOPE.
Montross said the participants would also be granted a few “freebies” for the week to reflect some additional assistance that 3SquaresVT clients can count on receiving from the food shelf.
Anyone interested in donating to the HOPE food shelf or participating in the 3SquaresVT challenge is asked to call the organization at 366-3608. The ACA/CVOEO food shelf may be reached by calling 388-2285, and those seeking to help the Have a Heart Food Shelf may call Price at 453-3187.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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