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Giving Fridge to expand its food offerings

BETHANIE FARRELL IS moving The Giving Fridge to the former Diner building at 66 Merchants Row. The Giving Fridge pays area farms and restaurants to make nutritious meals for poor folks in the Middlebury area. Independent photo/John Flowers

What’s really important to me is providing healthy, prepared (food) options for people.
— Bethanie Farrell

MIDDLEBURY — The Giving Fridge — a charity launched this past winter to feed hungry Middlebury-area people and sustain ailing restaurants during the COVID-19 pandemic — is about to re-stock.
In a big way.
Giving Fridge founder Bethanie Farrell recently confirmed she’s signed a two-year lease for the former home of The Diner at 66 Merchants Row, a space that will allow her to ramp up her efforts to feed the hungry and launch nutrition programming.
Established this past winter in vacant space at 24 Merchants Row, The Giving Fridge solicits financial contributions and sells plants, honey, crafts, spices and other donated products to raise funds for meals for folks in need.
The Giving Fridge pays local restaurants to cook the meals, using produce from area farms. Farrell offers the meals for free or at greatly reduced price to struggling Middlebury-area residents, and sells them for $10 each to those able to pay full price. Customers can also choose to buy meals for neighbors who are down on their luck.
Her meal-prep partners have thus far included the Middlebury Natural Foods Co-op, American Flatbread Middlebury, Sabai Sabai, The Arcadian & Haymaker Bun Co., Park Squeeze and the Bearded Frog restaurants, Bobcat Café, Two Brothers Tavern, and Mister Ups. Farrell is currently finalizing plans to add a few more producers and bakeries into the rotation.
“Contributions and plant adoptions have steadily continued,” she said. “Now that I’ve secured a long-term location in town, I’m in a phase of grant writing and strategizing to expand my offerings both in retail and programming, in order to further solidify a self-sustainable social enterprise that ‘feeds’ The Giving Fridge with each purchase and event.”
The Giving Fridge has dispensed more than 2,000 meals since December and created approximately $20,000 in revenue for local businesses.
At her new digs, Farrell believes she can make The Giving Fridge more than a place to buy a handful of products and receive a nice meal. Her plans for 66 Merchants Row include:
•  Educational and entertainment programs.
“I’ll expand on programming related to the plant retail,” she said. “I’ll also expand my honey offerings and have programming that focuses around pollinators. I’m planning to put an observation hive either in the space, or just outside of the space.”
Nutrition workshops are also in the works.
•  Collaborations with The Giving Fridge’s new landlord, the neighboring Town Hall Theater. Farrell sees good synergy with the THT on events like Foodaroo, an annual summer offering in downtown Middlebury that features food trucks and craft purveyors from across Vermont.
•Branching out into prepared meals for folks living with chronic diseases. Farrell is currently talking to Porter Medical Center officials about a pilot program to develop diabetic-friendly meals. Plans call for meal recipients to also receive dietary education at The Giving Fridge.
“What’s really important to me is providing healthy, prepared (food) options for people,” she said.
The THT acquired the former Diner property in 2018 to give the organization more space for storage, set-building, small performances and maybe even space for an addition onto the neighboring THT building some day.
“When THT purchased 66 Merchants Row, we had a vision of future expansion, deepening our commitment to the community, and growing our presence as an arts anchor in Addison County,” THT Executive Director Lisa Mitchell said. “We still maintain that vision, but it will take time to cultivate what that will look like. So, for now, we’re happy to host a great business and grow vibrancy in downtown Middlebury.”
Farrell realizes restaurants will become busier as COVID restrictions abate. So she’s speaking with restaurant managers to see how their commitment to The Giving Fridge could be affected.
“The idea is that I’ll get more restaurants involved,” Farrell said. “I’ll be able to expand to more restaurants, with a lower volume of meals prepared by each.”
Right now, Farrell is The Giving Fridge, but she’s looking forward to including others in its operations.
“I have a lot of volunteers that I just haven’t been able to tap into because of COVID restrictions,” Farrell said. “But I will definitely be talking to a number of people now about how they want to be involved and create a more structured volunteer program.”
But she’d also like the nascent nonprofit to be a job generator.
“My hope is that if I can get a grant for this, or just wait until retail supports it, I would definitely like to hire some folks,” Farrell said. “I meet people every day who are in need of work. I’d love to be able to offer that, at some point.”
Operating economically and increasing donations and revenue will be all the more critical for The Giving Fridge, considering it’ll now owe monthly rent. Farrell has ideas for addressing the added overhead: Beef up her stock of plants and retail items, and allow people to earmark a portion of their donations toward rent at 66 Merchants Row.
Also in the works: A monthly membership fee through which the donor sponsors a local individual or family, which can earn perks like a specific plant, a jar of honey and/or a refill of seasoning.
Farrell will stick with her current Sunday and Monday hours for her first month or two at 66 Merchants Row. She ultimately envisions a Wednesday-to-Saturday schedule at the new spot.
Please also bear this in mind: When you see a “Nice Island Everything” item on menus at area restaurants, it’s an item that raises funds for The Giving Fridge. Nice Island is Farrell’s farm that’s taking shape in Panton. She makes an organic “everything” seasoning that will soon be for sale at The Giving Fridge.
So far, The Arcadian and Haymaker Bun Co. have rolled their items out, and you’ll start to see more during the coming weeks. Park Squeeze has created an option on its online menu for customers to buy a meal for The Giving Fridge when they’re buying your dinner.
More information about The Giving Fridge can be found at careofvt.com.

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