A unique statewide program called Everyone Eats designed to help both Vermonters suffering from food insecurity and the struggling Vermont restaurant industry has grown steadily from its start in August to the point it is now serving about 30,000 meals a week statewide, according to Jean Hamilton, statewide program coordinator for Everyone Eats.
The future of the program after Dec. 31 is in doubt, however, as it is funded by federal pandemic relief money that has to be spent by the end of the year, Hamilton said. She said there is hope that additional stimulus funds will allow the program to continue or be revived in 2021.
Meanwhile, a companion digital program that allows qualifying Vermonters to order takeout meals from a phone app was launched a month ago and has gained 500 users so far, although that program could also be shut down at the end of the year, Hamilton said.
The bulk of the restaurant meals delivered by Everyone Eats are distributed at sites managed by local organizations. In Central Vermont, the program is being run by Capstone Community Action in coordination with Skinny Pancake, a Vermont restaurant chain that helped recruit restaurants, according to Hamilton. Restaurants get $10 per meal provided.
Everyone Eats is utilizing distribution sites that were distributing free food before the pandemic hit, as well as new ones. In Montpelier, churches that have provided lunches in the past are now offering the restaurant meals for pick-up at lunch time. These include the Unitarian Church on Mondays, Bethany Church on Tuesdays, and St. Augustine Church on Fridays.
Other distribution sites in Montpelier include Another Way at 125 Barre Street, which is offering dinners on weekdays, and Washington County Mental Health at 137 Barre Street, offering lunches and dinners on weekends.
In Barre, the distribution locations include Capstone on Wednesdays from 10 a.m. to noon, the Salvation Army at lunchtime on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, and Enough Ministries at 11 a.m. on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays, and Sundays, plus an open food shelf.
Meals from Everyone Eats are also offered in some smaller towns in the area, including at the Northfield Food Shelf, the Worcester Food Shelf, and Faith in Action in Cabot.
To qualify to receive meals, participants must self-verify that the COVID-19 pandemic and economic crisis has negatively impacted their ability to access food or that they are unable to access enough food to feed their family. Some locations require participants to register ahead, but at the locations described above in Barre and Montpelier, individuals can just show up.
In Montpelier, the numbers of people picking up meals jumped at first but has been steady recently, according to Jessica Edgerly Walsh, co-coordinator of the local Everyone Eats program and a former Montpelier city councilor. She said participants are very appreciative of the help they are getting.
Participating restaurants and caterers in the central Vermont area include Good Taste Catering, Rabble-Rouser, Joe’s Kitchen at Screamin’ Ridge Farm, Skinny Pancake, Three Penny Taproom, and the Wayside, all in Montpelier. In Barre, Cornerstone and Morse Block Deli are signed up. Others in the area include Woods Lodge in Northfield, Harry’s Hardware in Cabot, the Post Office Café in Worcester, and Open Hearth in Waitsfield.
Everyone Eats was conceived as a way to provide nutritious meals to Vermonters in need of food assistance during the pandemic as well as a stabilizing source of income for Vermont restaurants, farmers, and food producer groups, which have also been hit by the pandemic. The program requires that 10 percent of the food come from local sources, but in Central Vermont the program has been getting 30 percent of its food from local farms and food producers, Hamilton said.
The program was launched with $5 million in funding from the Vermont Legislature, using federal pandemic stimulus funds, and is being administered statewide by Southeastern Vermont Community Action. Walsh said the state recognizes that the program has been running very well and has provided some additional funding to help the program grow.
Walsh said that 80 percent of the funds go to restaurants, with 20 percent designated for administration and distribution, which makes for a tight operational budget.
Hamilton, the statewide coordinator, said she had been working with Skinny Pancake to distribute food to shift workers earlier in the pandemic when a group of people got together to propose a statewide program to the Legislature in June. The program — perhaps the only statewide program of its type in the nation — was approved in early July and by early August the first hubs in the state were up and running, according to Hamilton.
“It was a big lift to make an entirely new statewide program,” she said. “But it has been extremely uplifting and rewarding to work with so many parties across the state, from sole proprietors to the governor.”
The new food ordering phone app was developed by Everyone Eats in partnership with the digital software company Localvore. The app allows users to order takeout from special menus at participating restaurants. As with the main program, restaurants are reimbursed $10 for meal vouchers redeemed at their businesses.
At present, four restaurants in Central Vermont are participating in the digital program — Skinny Pancake, Rabble-Rouser, the Wayside, and Morse Block Deli — but Hamilton said more restaurants are signing up all the time.
To download the app or get further information about distribution sites for Everyone Eats, go to shiftmeals.org/everyone-eats.