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‘Everyone Eats’ extended in Middlebury

MIDDLEBURY — The state of Vermont is extending the “Everyone Eats” free food program through September, a decision that will allow food-insecure folks in the Middlebury area to continue receiving a much-needed meal each Friday as they continue to wrestle with the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Although the program — originally due to sunset on June 30 — will continue in Middlebury, the same can’t be said for Vergennes and Bristol. The local restaurants that prepared the charitable meals for those two communities, along with Starksboro and Monkton, are getting busier and thus don’t have the capacity to stick with Everyone Eats.

“The Bar Antidote/ Hired Hand Restaurant is back to pre-COVID operations and didn’t have the ability to continue cooking daily meals for us,” program volunteer Sue Hameline said through an email.

But a group of volunteers at the Congregational Church of Middlebury, led by Dottie Neuberger, will continue to partner with the Charter House Coalition (CHC) and three local restaurants — Rosie’s, Jessica’s at the Swift House Inn, and Green Peppers — to make good use of a $30,800 grant that will sustain Everyone Eats Friday evenings into the early fall.

Everyone Eats is a federally funded, nonprofit venture that currently touches all 14 Vermont counties. At its height (this past winter), the program provided a combined total of 30,000 meals at 134 distribution sites each week.

Middlebury volunteer Michele Gilbert is also Addison County’s RiseVT program manager and the person who successfully applied for Middlebury’s Everyone Eats grant last fall.

The latest grant, she said, will pay for 280 Friday meals per week in July, 260 in August and 230 in September. Each meal is allocated $10, and the food is indeed restaurant quality, according to Gilbert. Maureen Conrad of Addison County Home Health & Hospice is providing key administrative support.

While the grant will only pay for a limited number of meals, the church is prepared for overflow demand, according to Gilbert. Volunteers can tap into the church larder and frozen provisions. A pot of hot water sits ready on the kitchen stove for vegetables and pasta, along with a bottomless crock of mac and cheese.

“It’s like the loaves and fishes,” Gilbert said, alluding to the Biblical reference to Jesus feeding 5,000 people with just five loaves of bread and two fish.

The Middlebury meal site is open to anyone. It remains to be seen whether Vergennes and/or Bristol area residents will make the trip to Middlebury now that Everyone Eats is no longer offered in their regions.

The CHC used to hold free community suppers on Friday evenings at the Congregational Church of Middlebury. But organizers suspended in-person meals early last year due to COVID-19. As a result, Everyone Eats meals will continue to be offered on a to-go basis a the rear entrance of the church, from 5-5:30 p.m. each Friday.

Families are asked to give organizers notice if they require six or more meals for their household table. Those wishing to volunteer for assembling the meals, or for information about home deliveries, can contact Neuberger at fdneuberger@middlebury.edu.

At the peak of Everyone Eats’ popularity, Bristol-area residents were using around 50 meals each day from a pick-up site at the town’s Lawrence Memorial Library, according to library Director Coco Moseley. The library continues to host a children’s lunch program sponsored by the Mount Abraham Unified School District, but Moseley believes Everyone Eats would continue to have a following if it were offered. She said the library would return to hosting the pick-up site, if needed.

It should be mentioned that it’s not all good news in Middlebury on the charitable food front. Heidi Lacey, executive director of the CHC’s warming shelter, noted the June 30 termination of a state-guided, FEMA-funded food program that was key in assisting homeless guests.

“Charter House is continuing to provide meals, though on a much smaller scale, through our takeout community lunch program and through an evening meal takeout option for those in need,” Lacey said.

Gilbert said it’s been a joy to put together the meals at Middlebury’s Congo Church. There’s a camaraderie among volunteers who are committed to ensuring their neighbors are fed. It’s also nice to know area restaurants are getting a boost from Everyone Eats revenues.

“The Everyone Eats program has been a win-win for everyone,” Gilbert said.

John Flowers is at johnf@addisonindependent.com.

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