National Guard to distribute food at sites across Vermont – vtdigger.org

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The Vermont National Guard will be distributing food at sites across the state in partnership with the Vermont Foodbank as food insecurity rises during the coronavirus pandemic. 

The Guard and Vermont Foodbank will be providing meals from the Federal Emergency Management Agency in Swanton, North Clarendon, North Springfield, Bennington and Newport. 

The sites will be set up at the regional airports in those towns and be open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on their assigned day. Food will be provided in Swanton on Wednesday, North Clarendon on Friday, North Springfield on April 27, Bennington on April 28 and Newport on April 29. 

Nicole Whalen, the director of communications and public affairs for the Vermont Foodbank, said that the state has received around 80,000 meals from FEMA for distribution. 

Those in need can receive a seven-day supply of Meals Ready-to-Eat for each member of their households. Guard members will be loading food directly into cars to ensure social distancing.   

The State Emergency Operations Center’s mass-feeding task force developed the plan to have the Guard distribute the food due to an increase in need, Whalen said.  

“We have been communicating with the State of Emergency Operations Center and let them know that we’re really going to need to take much more drastic measures to ensure that people are fed during this unprecedented time,” Whalen said. 

Food insecurity has increased by a third in the state since the start of the pandemic, according to a study by University of Vermont researchers. Just under a quarter of Vermonters are now food insecure. 

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Capt. Mikel Arcovitch, state public affairs officer for the Vermont National Guard, said that around 36 Guard members will be working on the initiative, with 10 to 15 members at each of the sites.

Whalen said that the Vermont Foodbank has seen a significant increase in demand since the start of the coronavirus. The Foodbank is set to distribute 62% more food this month than a typical month. 

“It’s kind of a perfect storm crisis for the charitable food system,” she said. “Not only is the need increasing, but our ability to get food out via the channels that we would typically use has completely gone off the rails.” 

The Foodbank has had to cancel community meals and eliminate client choice where the clients pick items they need from shelves, Whalen said. Now, the organization is pre-bagging food and doing drive-through distribution to ensure social distancing. 

“Our network, while at the same time having to give out more food than ever before, is having to do it in much more labor-intensive ways,” she said. “And with a limited labor force, because we can no longer host volunteers in the same numbers that we usually would to try to limit virus spread.”

Whalen said that the sites were selected because they are in areas that have traditionally had high demand for meals, demand that has risen since the start of the pandemic.  

The organizations are preparing to provide meals to 1,500 people on Wednesday at its first site in Swanton, Whalen said. The organizations would be evaluating the effectiveness of the program after the initial five days and then determine whether to continue or expand it, Whalen said.  

“This is our first step to try something new and see what happens,” she said. “And then from there, make a plan.”

Whalen said the charitable food system was in desperate need for additional measures to alleviate pressure on the network. 

“The hope is that this influx of MREs will just take a little bit of the pressure off of that system so that food shelves, meal sites and the Vermont Foodbank can be prepared for what happens next,” she said. “It’s not going to meet all of the need, but it is a necessary pressure valve to make things a little more sustainable during this crisis.” 

A total of 253 Guard members are working on coronavirus response-related missions, Arcovitch said. The Guard is also setting up overflow medical sites, including one at the Champlain Valley Exposition in Essex.   

Arcovitch said the Guard was honored to serve the community during a time of need. 

“When you are looking at the whole of Covid response, it’s all about supporting our neighbors, and that’s obviously an important mission for us,” he said. “Providing food to people who need it, it’s an honor to be able to do that.” 

Meals will be offered the following dates at the following locations:  

  • Wednesday, April 22, Franklin County Airport, 629 Airport Road, Swanton
  • Friday, April 24, Rutland Southern Vermont Regional Airport, 1002 Airport Road, North Clarendon
  • Monday, April 27, Hartness State Airport, 15 Airport Road, North Springfield
  • Tuesday, April 28, William H Morse State Airport, 1563 Walloomsac Road, Bennington
  • Wednesday, April 29, Northeast Kingdom International Airport, 2628 Airport Road, Newport

Those needing food can find additional information on resources at this link. 

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