New Foodbank Program Increases Food Distribution

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(Host) In 1999, the Vermont Foodbank lost part of it’s main facility when the building roof collapsed. Now with a new building and a new program, the Foodbank is ready to put healthier, fresher food on the table.

VPR’s Neal Charnoff reports.

(Charnoff) The Vermont Foodbank in South Barre has teamed up with the Vermont Department of Employment and Training to institute their newest program, the Community Kitchen Project. The Community Kitchen reprocesses and repackages prepared foods into “heat and eat” meals for distribution throughout the state. The project is also part of a welfare-to-work program which trains people for work in the culinary fields. The Community Kitchen includes a “clean room”, where fresh foods can be sorted and repackaged.

After being processed, food is prepared, vacuum-sealed, and flash-frozen. The packaged meals are good for one year, but are generally delivered to Foodbank agencies around the state within four days.

Deborah Flateman is the chief executive officer of the Vermont Foodbank. She says the Community Kitchen would not have been possible just a few years ago, because the Foodbank’s facility was simply too small. Flateman adds that the Vermont Foodbank’s new home was designed with volume in mind:

(Flateman) “We’ve got storage space now for much more food, we’ve got a million pounds of food on hand pretty much most of the time, and then with the Community Kitchen Program and the Clean Room, we’re on track to probably – we’re hoping to do maybe a quarter of a million pounds in prepared foods this first year.”

(Charnoff) Richard Ludwig is the Foodbank’s chef and kitchen instructor. He says that because of the fast-freeze process, the Foodbank can now deliver healthy, restaurant-quality meals to those in need. Ludwig says he enjoys the challenge presented by a constantly changing inventory:

(Ludwig) “For instance, the other day we had a place in Burlington, a truck had 17 hams on it, 17 cases of hams. And the truck had broken down and they couldn’t complete their delivery. Rather than leave those hams on the back of the truck at the repair shop for the weekend, we actually had a truck in the area, picked them up, brought them back here that afternoon, we made ham steaks.”

(Charnoff) Ludwig also oversees students from the Work Experience education and employment for Vermonters program. Students are trained in food preparation and safety, and are taught life skills that will help them make the transition from welfare to work.

Deborah Flateman says that the Community Kitchen will increase the amount of fresh fruits and vegetables that can be distributed. She adds that as the volume of so-called “rescued food” increases, the Foodbank inches closer toward its goal of ending hunger in Vermont.

(Flateman) “I think the major thing to point out is that there’s only one Vermont Foodbank… that in moving that 8 million pounds of food this year, we’re getting closer to our immediate goal of moving 13.8 million. We feel that if we get to that immediate goal of 13.8 million, for the first time in the history of the Vermont Foodbank we will be able to say that we are getting close, we think to actually making Vermont food-secure.”

(Charnoff) For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Neal Charnoff in South Barre.

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