On March 15, the Montpelier Food Pantry reopened its doors, exactly two years to the day after it shut down indoor use because of COVID-19 safety precautions. Jaime Bedard, executive director of Just Basics, the non-profit organization that runs the Food Pantry, said pantry users can once again walk in during open hours for a more “bodega like’’ shopping experience. Simultaneously, the organization is raising money to buy meat birds to be raised at the Montpelier “FEAST Farm” for both the food pantry and senior meals.
The Pantry Opens Again
“It was kind of emotional for me,” Bedard said in an interview. “It was two years to the day. It felt a little overwhelming. When we closed down the first time it was so sudden and everyone thought it would be temporary.”
Those two years saw big changes at the Food Pantry. For one thing, donations came pouring in. And while the mostly senior volunteers sheltered in place, high-school students stepped up to the plate, volunteering to keep the pantry running.
Bedard, then the only staff member at Just Basics, said, “Individual donations were up. That is the main reason we are doing better financially. In the pandemic, people were signing over their stimulus checks. That got us into a place where we now have three staff people.”
Located in a musty basement at the Trinity Church without adequate ventilation, the pantry had to close to the public.
That’s fixed now, thanks to a grant from the NationalLife Group Foundation and a partnership between the foundation, the church, and the pantry. The goal: upgrade with new ventilation and dehumidification. At the same time, Bedard said, staff developed online ordering with curbside pickup and home delivery services, both of which remain as options.
During the pandemic, the Trinity Church gave up its fellowship hall for the food pantry; allowing staff to store food and box it up for clients in the space formerly used for group gatherings. The church also has provided the Food Pantry with an extra room purely for non-food items such as pet food, diapers, menstrual supplies, cleaning supplies, and more, Bedard said.
“Just Basics couldn’t have been successful without the incredible support of Rev. Yunki Kim and all those who keep Trinity running,” Bedard said. “We have a great, supportive relationship.”
Local Meat for Local People
And speaking of partnerships, Just Basics joins the FEAST Senior Meals program to raise money for Montpelier’s FEAST Farm. The farm is run by the city’s Parks Department, according to a press release from Just Basics. The funds will enable the farm to buy 400 broiler chickens and the equipment to raise them. They also plan to buy an e-bike and trailer to transport food.
“FEAST serves more than 16,000 meals per year to older adults in Montpelier and Berlin, and the FEAST Farm raises more than 5,000 pounds of free produce to help subsidize the nutrition program,” wrote Sarah Lipton, director of the Montpelier Senior Activity Center in a release to The Bridge. “The inter-organization fundraising collaboration was born out of a desire to create a net-zero local nutrition resource for both older adults and families in need.”
“It doesn’t get much more local or sustainable than that! Please consider supporting the FEAST Farm Fundraiser today,” wrote Jolynda Burton, the development and communications manager for Just Basics.