The Vermont Foodbank, founded in 1986, is the state’s largest hunger relief organization, serving more than 65,000 low-income Vermonters annually and delivering more than six million pounds of food each year. Formed in response to the Central Vermont Community Action Council’s demand for emergency food in the early 1980s, the core function of the Foodbank is to distribute donated, salvaged, and purchased food to its network of 272 member agencies statewide. The Foodbank gathers food and related items from a variety of sources statewide and nationwide, then stores or processes and repackages them for distribution at its 22,000 square-foot warehouse and headquarters in South Barre, VT. The Foodbank is a certified affiliate of Feeding America, the country’s largest charitable hunger-relief organization.
In July 2008, the Foodbank was selected to partner with the Vermont Land Trust and become the new owner of the Kingsbury Community Farm in Warren, VT. The 20.2-acre farm will become a source of locally grown produce for distribution to local food shelves as well as throughout Vermont’s charitable food system. The Kingsbury farm, which will be in full operation under the ownership of the Vermont Foodbank, will also undergo renovations to become a year-round facility where agriculture and hunger-based educational programs and community meetings can be held. Furthermore, this farm will give residents of the Mad River Valley area—and throughout the state—the opportunity to have locally grown produce that they otherwise may not have access to due to economic challenges. In addition, the Foodbank’s increased ability to gather food locally will result in reduced transportation costs, which is an important step as the Foodbank continues to explore new ways to reduce energy use within its distribution network.
Besides partnering with Vermont communities on fresh food production, agricultural and hunger education, the Foodbank has also continued to build collaborative partnerships with a focus on programs targeting Vermont’s youth. Beginning in October 2008, the Foodbank is launching a new weekend feeding program for children called the BackPack™ Program. This program, established by Feeding America, is designed to meet the needs of hungry children at times when other resources, such as school breakfast and lunch, are not available. During the first year, the Foodbank plans to distribute approximately 21,000 pounds of food to children participating in the program and feed 150 children in six schools every week. The bags—each containing nonperishable, easily consumed and fortified food items—will be packed at the Foodbank and then distributed to the appropriate school districts. It is through the BackPack™ program, as well as through its other youth-focused meal service and nutrition education programs—such as Kids Cafe, Hunger 101—that the Foodbank will continue to strive to combat children’s hunger in Vermont.
As the winter of 2008–2009 approaches, the Foodbank and its network partners are seeing a significant increase in the number of households with individual members accessing food shelves, food pantries, and meal sites. Poverty and hunger are on the rise throughout Vermont, and the Foodbank will continue to work toward forming and nurturing collaborative partnerships in its effort to sustain the array of programs that reach and assist as many food-insecure households in the state as possible.