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$300k gift to benefit struggling restaurants

ANDY NAGY-BENSON, SENIOR pastor of the Congregational Church of Middlebury, is spearheading “Table 21,” a pop-up nonprofit that will disburse $300,000 in donated money to local restaurants and farms financially hurt by the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo by Caleb Kenna

Found pennies come from heaven
That’s what my grandpa told me.
He said Angels tossed them down
Oh, how I loved that story!
So goes the Charles Mashburn poem, a cute ode to found money.
The Congregational Church of Middlebury is living its own version of the poem, and it speaks to a much larger sum — $300,000 — recently donated by a distant angel dedicated to easing the financial burdens of Middlebury-area restaurants and farms hurt by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
The angel in this case wishes to remain anonymous. Church Senior Pastor Andy Nagy-Benson simply described her as “a friend of our congregation who lives overseas and who has some ties to the Middlebury community.”
The benefactor, Nagy-Benson added, “is aware of the impacts of COVID-19 across the globe and has a deep sense of caring for this community.”
It’s an angel that wants her funds to help people as soon as possible. Her gift landed in the Congregational Church’s bank account on Jan. 27. Nagy-Benson quickly assembled a board to design an application and awards process for grants of up to $25,000.
Plans call for the board to meet “as often as it takes” during the second half of this month to make allocation decisions. “Table 21,” as Nagy-Benson has dubbed the nonprofit venture, is to have a zero balance by March 1.
Why call it Table 21?
The word “table” suggests the food system and Holy Communion in church, while “21” is an abbreviation for the current calendar year.
“It linked the theological with the practical, and it marked the time,” Nagy-Benson said.
In order to apply, one must represent any farm, restaurant or small business in “greater Middlebury” that has “experienced negative impact due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” reads the application form. “It is the intention of Table 21 to prioritize grants that will strengthen the applicant businesses, strengthen and assist the Middlebury food network, and support the community.”
In addition, the applicant must, among other things:
•  Be a for-profit business entity located in or around Middlebury that provides goods and services to greater Middlebury.
•  Be registered with the state of Vermont, must not currently be in bankruptcy, and have been established on or before March 15, 2020.
•  Be open at the time of grant distribution or have a plan to reopen in 2021.
•  Be able to substantiate need due to a loss of business or other negative impact due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and must be able to demonstrate how the grant funds will be used by the business to mitigate negative impacts of the pandemic.
Applicants that have shown a history of community involvement such as volunteering, donations to nonprofit organizations or community events, and efforts to buy local will get extra consideration, according to the application.
Grant applications will be accepted through Feb. 15.
And here’s some more good news: The benefactor has implied the potential for future donations to replenish Table 21 to assist other entities hit by the coronavirus.
“She wanted this first wave to go to assist restaurants and local farms,” Nagy-Benson said. “That net will expand to include more small businesses in the future, I hope.”
In the meantime, the Table 21 board will remain active.
“The ‘tier two’ part is (obtaining) 501c-3 status and pursuing other capital gifts so it’s not just a COVID relief bridge for this year, but potentially could be something to help further revitalize Main Street and our town,” Nagy-Benson said.
“I will continue to try and raise lots of money for Table 21 so that small businesses, restaurants and local farms will in perpetuity have a little bit of a channel for financial assistance.”
Nagy-Benson heaped praise on several local people and organizations who helped set up Table 21 in rapid fashion. They included the law firm Langrock, Sperry & Wool, which helped register Table 21 with the Vermont Secretary of State’s office. Addison County Economic Development Corp. Executive Director Fred Kenney wrote the Table 21 application, while the Better Middlebury Partnership’s Karen Duguay and Amey Ryan loaned their expertise.
“It was a beautiful expression of collaboration and cooperation; I really can’t thank them enough,” Nagy-Benson said. “It was a great reminder of the quality of place in which we live. People are helping each other out.”
Duguay, Kenney and Addison County Chamber of Commerce Director Rob Carter each recently sent the Table 21 application to their constituencies. Any qualifying entity wanting to apply should email [email protected].
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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