Food shelves seeking support, even with gleaning

MIDDLEBURY — Helping Overcome Poverty’s Effects (HOPE) is calling for food donations to carry hungry Addison County residents into this fall, when local food drives kick off to help nonprofit organizations replenish their larders.
At the same time, HOPE is beginning to reap the rewards of its annual gleaning program, through which several Addison County farms are contributing surplus fruits and vegetables for residents who can’t afford to maintain a balanced diet.
HOPE Executive Director Jeanne Montross hopes that effort can fill in the gaps.
“There are a lot of empty areas in our food shelf, and not a lot of (product) options,” Montross said.
HOPE officials are circulating a list of foods that are in particular demand right now. They include breakfast cereals; bottled or canned juice (other than cranberry); canned fruits; vegetables (not corn or green beans); meats; beans and soups; flavored pastas (not spaghetti or elbows); rice; and condiments such as mayonnaise, ketchup, mustard, salad dressings and vegetable oil.
Formerly known as Addison County Community Action Group, HOPE is based on Boardman Street in Middlebury. It is an important safety net for the county’s most vulnerable citizens, providing food, clothing, shelter, holiday toys and emergency financial assistance.
HOPE last year distributed 235,641 pounds of food, of which 162,169 was donated. The organization’s food shelf drew 7,811 visits from low-income individuals seeking help in cobbling together balanced meals.
Food shelf use typically declines during the summer, a time when low-income folks spend less on electricity and don’t have to factor heating fuel into their household budgets, Montross explained.
But this has been an unusual summer that has seen HOPE serve around 100 homeless people. Hot temperatures have forced people to keep fans and air conditioners running more than usual, thus affecting electricity bills.
Because many folks earning a minimum wage can’t afford child care, insurances, medicine and other household needs, some choose to sacrifice on food in order to pay bills. This has translated into a fairly busy July for HOPE, which as of Monday had served 644 people in 283 households, according to Montross.
About two weeks ago John Fallon — a longtime HOPE volunteer and current part-time staffer who keeps track of food shelf orders — reported gaps in inventory.
“He told me, ‘This is getting really bad,’” Montross said.
And that led to a HOPE flyer soliciting donations to re-stock the food shelf.
Donations can be dropped in the bins at Hannaford Market in Middlebury and Shaw’s Supermarket in Bristol, or at HOPE’s food shelf at 282 Boardman Street. Montross added people can make financial contributions that HOPE can use for bulk food purchases.
Fortunately, HOPE has been getting a boost from several Addison County farms with extra produce to donate. Lily Bradburn, local food access coordinator with HOPE, gave a special shout-out to four helpful agricultural operations: Singing Cedars in Orwell, Golden Russet in Shoreham, Ferrisburgh’s Lalumiere Farm, and the Elmer Farm in Middlebury.
These and other farms are providing a steady stream of tomatoes, summer squash, zucchini and cucumbers. Potatoes, carrots and other veggies will follow during the weeks ahead.
Bradburn, as of Monday, reported 6,800 pounds in summer veggie donations, a figure she expects to rise substantially through August and September and into October. Area orchards will also be supplying surplus apples to HOPE’s gleaning efforts.
Most farmers are reporting abundant and healthy vegetable crops in spite of the hot, dry weather, according to Bradburn.
Food shelf customers are invited to “take what they can use” when it comes to the fresh vegetables, Bradburn said.
Some of the produce will be frozen to use during the winter. And, as usual, Bradburn will hold some vegetables in reserve to make soups in collaboration with the Patricia Hannaford Career Center.
Because HOPE officials realize not all clients can make it to the Middlebury food shelf, Bradburn and her colleagues make regular deliveries to the Vergennes, Bristol and Starksboro food shelves, as well as to Middlebury’s Open Door Clinic and the senior housing project on Armory Lane in the Little City.
“It’s amazing to have all these connections,” she said.
More information about the HOPE food shelf is available at hope-vt.org or 388-3608.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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