Shortages at Vermont Food Bank impacts local food shelves

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(Host) Demand typically increases at Vermont’s food shelves when the weather turns cold.

But this year, the 270 food shelves served by the Vermont Food Bank are also being hit with a 50 percent drop in food supplies.

Jeanne Montross says that means difficult choices for her staff at the Addison County Community Action Group’s food shelf in Middlebury, which serves 300 families a month.

(Montross) "We have to restrict. We won’t give peanut butter to adults, we’ll just give it to families with children. It’s the same thing with juice, we’re giving it to children when we have it, and if we don’t have it, we don’t have it."

(Host) The Vermont Food Bank normally supplies local food shelves with those items and other staples like tuna fish and baked beans.

Executive Director Doug O’Brien says the US Agriculture Department has supplied groceries to food banks. But high farm prices mean that help doesn’t go as far.

(O’Brien) "Most Americans and certainly most Vermonters have seen this in their local grocery stores that as food prices go up, the need for USDA to purchase food commodities to support market prices has dwindled. And as that pressure on the department has dwindled, it has meant that they’re just less food they’re delivering to food banks."

(Host) And the amount of money the program uses to buy food hasn’t changed since national farm policy was last updated five years ago. And with higher prices and inflation, that money isn’t going as far.

O’Brien says 66,000 Vermonters visited a food shelf last year. Now, demand is increasing from Burlington to Brattleboro.

(O’Brien) "Even agencies very close to the food bank here in central Vermont have had literally empty shelves and it means that they’re just providing less in the food box or less in the food bag to that family that turns to them for help. And we’re trying to do everything we can at all costs to not have that happen."

(Host) The Food Bank has been relying on private donations. O’Brien says his agency has also been in touch with the state’s congressional delegation. He says the farm bill pending in the Senate would increase Vermont’s share of USDA commodities by 80 percent.

In the meantime, the Vermont Food Bank is urging Vermonters to donate time, money or food to their local food shelf.

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