Vermont’s food shelves short on food

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(Host) The Vermont Food Bank has 50 percent less food than it did one year ago, and across the state local food pantries are struggling to fill their shelves.

Demand for food typically goes up around this time of year, and that has food shelf workers worried.

VPR’s Sarah Ashworth has more.

(Ashworth) As the holiday season approaches, almost 10 percent of Vermont’s households are struggling with hunger.

That’s according to a newly released report from the USDA.  The agency measures "food insecurity" or lack of access to nutritious foods.  Vermont ranks 19th in the country, in terms of the number of people who struggle to find food and are hungry.

Elizabeth Eddy works for BROC – Community Action of Southwestern Vermont. She says the report’s findings line up with what she sees at the food shelves in Rutland and Bennington.

(Eddy) "We are seeing about a 30-percent increase in demand in both locations.  We’re seeing new faces, new hungry people, working people.  So, we are finding more demand, with diminished capacity to meet it.  We’re trying to meet rising fuel costs, rising housing costs and rising food costs, and it’s putting us in a very difficult position.  I feel we’re running in place, and just trying to provide calories at this point."

(Ashworth) BROC is one of the state’s 270 food pantries and shelters that receive food from the Vermont Foodbank in Barre.

Last year the foodbank distributed food to 66,000 Vermonters.

But, Foodbank CEO Doug O’Brien says this year the foodbank has 50-percent less food on its shelves.  He attributes the low stock to a reduction in federal commodities the foodbank has received over the past few years

(O’Brien)"It’s being driven by the USDA commodities.  It’s such an important and stabilizing effect on the overall charitable food system.  And this is true around the country, it’s not just Vermont.  But overall, when the USDA commodities are down, this leveraging effect is down, and it makes us much more dependent on private donations, and those fluctuate throughout the year."

(Ashworth) This year’s reauthorization of the Farm Bill would increase congress’ mandatory food assistance appropriation by $110 million dollars a year, and would double the amount of food commodities available to the Food Bank.

But that won’t have any impact, anytime soon. In Brattleboro, at the city’s Area Drop-In Center, food shelf coordinator Boomer Driggers says his shelves are nearly bare this Thanksgiving.

(Driggers)"Right now, all we have is cereal, and some beans, and bread, that’s it.  When I don’t have a lot of food on the shelves, is when we give just what we can.  We give people just a little bit less because we need the other food for the other clients."

(Ashworth)Some area food shelves are holding special fundraisers this time of year.  Last week’s annual Stuff-a-truck food fundraiser in Barre collected 16 tons of food for the Central Vermont Salvation Army Emergency Food Shelf.

For VPR News, I’m Sarah Ashworth.

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