A statewide program that was developed to help get meals to people suffering food insecurity because of COVID, as well as provide income for restaurants preparing that food at a time when many customers are staying home is expected now to continue through the end of the year, according to Harry DiPrinzio, who is program manager for the Rutland program on behalf of the Vermont Farmers Food Center.
The program, Everyone Eats, distributes food multiple times per week.
The program has partners in Windham and Windsor County towns like Bellows Falls, Brattleboro, Hartford, Putney, Rockingham, Westminster and Windsor. Locations include the Bellows Falls Senior Center, Black River Good Neighbors (Ludlow), Brattleboro Area Mutual Aid, Brattleboro Boys and Girls Club, Brattleboro Community Justice Center, Chester Helping Hands, Grafton Community Church, Health Care-Rehab Services (Brattleboro), Our Place Drop-In Center (Bellows Falls, Rockingham, Westminster), Parks Place (Rockingham, Westminster), Putney Mutual Aid, Root Social Justice (Brattleboro), Springfield Family Center, Springfield Shaw’s Plaza, Thompson Senior Center (Woodstock), Trinity Church Food Pantry (Windsor), Upper Valley Haven (Hartford), Weathersfield Food Shelf, Windham Congregational Church, Windsor School, Windsor Veggie Van Go, Woodstock Food Shelf and Youth Services (Brattleboro).
Everyone Eats was created by the Legislature. VFFC applied to be the agency that ran the program for Southeastern Vermont Community Action. DiPrinzio said the agency has done a good job “building this airplane as we’re flying it.”
“What we’re doing here looks different than how Everyone Eats programs in other counties just based on how we organized it and who is helping out,” DiPrinzio said.
DiPrinzio said the only restriction on those who benefit from the program are that there has been a negative impact on that person’s access to food because of the pandemic.
On distribution days, a person coming to Everyone Eats can pick up meals for up to three households including one’s own home. The person at the site can pick up one meal for each person in the homes for which the person is representing.
There is a goal of keeping the distribution as contactless and efficient as possible. Those picking up the food fill out a form so the staff and volunteers know what to bring to the vehicle that’s moving through the line at VFFC.
DiPrinzio said there also are organizations in different towns that pick up meals and bring them to people who need food, like Shrewsbury Community Church, United Methodist Church in Rutland, Wonderfeet Kids Museum and NewStory Center.
While helping organizations and individuals, Everyone Eats also is a “pretty good lifeline” for restaurants, DiPrinzio said.
The meals are being prepared by 14 restaurants in the county.
Rina Harchind, co-owner of Little Haveli, in Rutland Town, said the Indian restaurant provides “veggie and chicken meals” to Everyone Eats. She said DiPrinzio invited her to participate and because lunch time had gotten slow during the pandemic, she said she was happy to participate.
“That thing helped us a lot, and we are happy to help the community. Because of the community, I’m here right now. I did the farmers market before and all the customers, they encourage me to open the restaurant, so that’s why I wanted to help the community, too,” she said.
Harchid said she hopes that when the pandemic restrictions are eased, some of the people who got the meals will remember how much they liked Little Haveli.
Di Prinzio said Everyone Easts in Rutland County distributes more than 3,000 meals a week — about 1,000 each Monday, Wednesday and Thursday.
There are requirements for the participating restaurants to use locally sourced foods so the program also helps Rutland County farmers.
Driton Sedju, manager and co-owner of Bueno Burrito in Rutland, said he was very grateful to be invited to participate in Everyone Eats which he said had been very helpful in keeping the Strongs Avenue business going.
“I’m grateful. Not just because financially they help me but emotionally,” he said.
DiPrinzio said he hoped another positive aspect of Everyone Eats was that it might reduce the stigma of accepting help by people who are experiencing food insecurity.
“Families that these meals are very helpful to, who normally wouldn’t go to a food bank, are coming to the Everyone Eats distributions. That’s good to see, I guess. Obviously, what’s not good to see is that there are so many people could use these meals which just indicates a widespread economic insecurity,” he said.
After an interview on Tuesday, DiPrinzio said in a follow-up interview that it would be “amazing” if Everyone Eats could continue in 2021.
“There’s lots of nervousness about what will happen when the program ends at the end of December, for families who rely on it and for the restaurants — especially with COVID out of control right now and folks not going out to eat — and without a clear idea about whether there will be another federal relief package,” he said.