Earlier this week, our Summer Ag students headed out to Pete’s Greens on a mission to help the Vermont Foodbank. Andrea Salazzo is the Gleaning & Community Outreach Coordinator for the Northeast Kingdom, and she organized the collaboration. While she and the class worked to gather ~450 lbs of fresh chard for area shelters, we had the chance to ask her some questions about her important work.
BB: What is the Vermont Foodbank?
AS: The mission of the Vermont Foodbank is to gather and share quality food and nurture partnerships so that no one in Vermont will go hungry. Food is initially gathered from grocery stores, food manufacturers, farms, businesses, restaurants, individuals, and Feeding America, the national network of food banks. We also partner with Vermont farms and orchards to obtain more fresh, local produce through gleaning and Pick for Your Neighbor.
We distribute 9 million pounds of food from our four regional distribution facilities. In addition to directly distributing food to network partners, we manage two federal food distribution programs: the Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP) and The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP). We also distribute food through two youth programs: BackPack and School Food Pantry To-Go. All food from the Vermont Foodbank is kept in Vermont and often is directly distributed to area food shelves that serve low-income Vermonters.
BB: How many Vermonters rely on the Foodbank to feed their families?
AS: The Vermont Foodbank serves 153,000 Vermonters annually – that’s 1 in 4 of our neighbors.
You read that right, 1 in 4 Vermonters relies on the Vermont Foodbank!
BB: Can you share some statistics about the demographic that most relies on the Food Bank?
AS: Sure! Here are some key statistics about hunger in Vermont from Hunger in America 2014:
The Foodbank itself:
- The Vermont Foodbank serves 153,000 people annually, including 33,900 children.
- 7.8% percent of adult clients are students.
- 18% of households include someone who is a veteran or who has ever served in the military.
- 35.8% of the Foodbank’s network partners employ no paid staff/are operated exclusively by volunteers.
About the health of our clients:
- 71.8% of households report purchasing inexpensive, unhealthy food because they could not afford healthier options.
- 56% of households report having to choose between paying for food and paying for medicine or medical care.
- 23% of households include a member with diabetes.
- 46% households have a member with high blood pressure.
Making tough choices and trade-offs to keep food on the table. Following are the choices client households reported making in the past 12 months:
- 63% report choosing between paying for food and paying for utilities.
- 21% of these households are making the choice every month.
- 58% report making choices between paying for food and paying for transportation.
- 22% of these households are making the choice every month.
- 56% report choosing between paying for food and paying for medicine/medical care.
- 23% of these households are making the choice every month.
- 52% report choosing between paying for food and paying for housing.
- 17% of these households are making the choice every month.
- 20% report choosing between paying for food and paying for education expenses.
- 9% are making the choice every month.
More than half (53.9%) of households reported using three or more coping strategies for getting enough food in the past 12 months. The frequency of these strategies among all households include:
- 52.6% report eating food past the expiration date;
- 36.4% report growing food in a garden;
- 25.3% report pawning or selling personal property;
- 71.8% report purchasing inexpensive, unhealthy food;
- 31% report watering down food or drinks;
- 53.4% report receiving help from friends or family.
Low wages, underemployment and unemployment driving need:
- 7.5% of respondents have faced foreclosure or eviction in the past five years.
- Among all households served by the Vermont Foodbank’s network partners, 60.2% have at least one member who has been employed in the past year.
- Among all households with an employed person, the person with the longest employment duration is more likely to be employed part-time (85.5%) than full-time (14.5%)
BB: The work that you, the Foodbank and your partners are doing is absolutely vital. Can anybody donate food or time?
AS: Yes! We are always accepting volunteers and donations. We have a high need for volunteers to participate in our gleaning program – the more people we have in the fields, the more fresh produce can get distributed to area food shelves. Throughout the summer we are at area farms all across Vermont. Gleaning is a fun, physical activity and a great opportunity to be outside at beautiful local farms. If you are interested in gleaning please contact our Volunteer Coordinator Nicole Mitchell at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For large food donations people can drop off products at our Wolcott Office Tuesday and Wednesday between 8 – 2pm or at our main office in Barre. For smaller, home garden donations we recommend contacting area food shelves directly to drop-off products.
BB: One more question before you head out: what is your favorite part about working with Sterling College?
AS: I always appreciate any opportunity to work with Sterling students! Not only do they make my job more fun, but they are incredibly diligent and hard workers in the fields. The students are always very curious about farming practices and also engaged in learning more about food insecurity in Vermont. I know that any large gleaning job will be completed when working with Sterling students and it will done well. I hope that gleaning with the Vermont Foodbank becomes a regular part of the schedule at Sterling and students have the ability to join us in the fields weekly!
Click here to view some images of the Sterling students gleaning 450lbs of chard! It was a gorgeous day, a lot of fun and an incredibly important investment in our community and our neighbors! We’re looking forward to more collaborations with the Vermont Foodbank!
“When we give cheerfully and accept gratefully, everyone is blessed.” ― Maya Angelou