Vermont Foodbank says demand is up for food assistance

11/28/03 12:00AM By Neal Charnoff
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(Host) It's been almost three years since the Vermont Foodbank moved into its new facility in South Barre.

As VPR's Neal Charnoff reports, foodbank officials say there are more working Vermonters who need food.

(Charnoff) The Vermont Foodbank is doing its best to keep up with the growing demand for food assistance. Since moving into a new, larger facility in 1999, the Foodbank has expanded services and diversified the product line it makes available.

In the past year, the Foodbank has been recognized nationally for its Community Kitchen project, which rescues perishable and prepared foods from restaurants and hotels. The food is flash-frozen and turned into heat-and-eat meals.

Other donations come from Federal USDA programs, major retailers, and private contributions.

Deborah Flateman is the Chief Executive Officer of the Vermont Foodbank.

She says one change in the last few years is the increase of working Vermonters who need food assistance. Flateman is worried that some people are just too proud to go to a food shelf, and she would like to see them overcome their aversion to asking for assistance.

(Flateman) You know there's a safety net out there that is created by the government, state government, the federal government, as well as private non-profits like ourselves, and food shelves across the state. It's there for a reason. You know all of us could at any time come in and out of that system. I always ask the question: how many paychecks are any of us from needing assistance, if something catastrophic happened in our lives? I would encourage you to find a food shelf where you feel comfortable.

(Charnoff) Richard Ludwig of Riverton is the chef-instructor for the Foodbanks Community Kitchen Project. He, too, is urging Vermonters in need to take advantage of the services food shelves offer.

(Ludwig) One of the people in Rutland, one of the agencies, had referred to it as what they call "bachelor degree poor." We have people in society that have bachelor degrees that still are food insecure - which we like to use as the term instead of hunger - and they still need food. It's not a sign that you're not making it or to be proud of, but there are hungry people, and they could be your neighbor.

(Charnoff) In the past fiscal year, the Foodbank has distributed 7.4 million pounds of food, compared to the 4 million pounds in 1999. The food is distributed to 290 agencies around Vermont.

But demand continues to outpace supply.

Deborah Flateman says that many food shelves are seeing a yearly 30 to 40 percent increase in demand.

Despite these figures, Flateman remains optimistic about ending hunger in Vermont.

(Flateman) We cannot affect minimum wage salaries, the cost of housing - we can't do that. What we can do at the Vermont Foodbank is do the best job that we can at recovering our share of the 92 billion pounds of food that is wasted every single year in this country, getting it into Vermont, and recycling it through this charitable food distribution system called Foodbanking. If we can just get in the consciousness of everyone in this state, if everyone simply decides that hunger is unacceptable, we can end hunger in this state.

(Charnoff) You can learn more about the Vermont Foodbank at VTFoodbank.org.

For Vermont Public Radio, I'm Neal Charnoff.

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