BRATTLEBORO -- The Vermont Foodbank has closed down the food shelf at the Community Bible Chapel because someone was stealing some of the food as it made its way from the foodbank warehouse to the church.

The Vermont Foodbank informed the church earlier this month that it would stop supplying the free food for the food shelf.

"It's been very hard," Vermont Foodbank Executive Director John Sayles said. "We struggled with our decision, but it is very important that the food is safe, and that it is being distributed in a proper manner."

Sayles refused to release any details about what was happening to the food that was destined for the Community Bible Chapel food shelf after it was loaded on to a truck at the Brattleboro warehouse.

Signs on the door to the Community Bible Chapel in Brattleboro telling the public that the food distribution site, clothing racks and Brightspot cafe will
Signs on the door to the Community Bible Chapel in Brattleboro telling the public that the food distribution site, clothing racks and Brightspot cafe will be closed until further notice. (Kayla Rice/Reformer)

The Community Bible Chapel is located on Atwood Street near Brattleboro Union High School.

Sayles said after meeting with church leaders it became apparent that they were not aware what was going on, and he said no charges are going to be pressed.

"Every network partner of the Foodbank has an agreement with us, and it was clear that they were not in conformance with that agreement," said Sayles. "The church leaders did not have a lot to do with the food shelf and the distribution and how it operates. They were not complicit, they just didn't know what was going on so we had to shut it down."

The Vermont Foodbank is a statewide distribution service that collects fresh and packaged food donations and provides it to 270 food shelves in Vermont.

Sayles said the Foodbank began providing food to the Community Bible Chapel in November 2009, and has provided, on average, about 21,000 pounds of food every month. About 550 duplicated households used the food shelf every month. The shelf was open, on average, three times a month, and a duplicated household is one that may have used it more than once a month.

Sayles said foodbank staff met with church members this week, and he said the foodbank would be willing to re-start the Community Bible Church food shelf if the church leaders would be able to secure the distribution of the food.

"I hope we can find a way to restart it and work with the community to find another option for distributing the food because obviously the need is there," he said.

John Stetzel, who is a member of the church, said church leaders were disappointed by the Foodbank's decision to cease operations, but said he understood their decision.

"We don't want to blame other people. There was a problem with people who are not connected with the church. It was wrong, and we know it was wrong," Stetzel said. "We were very sad that they had to close it down. As a church we profess the words of Christ and we want to feed the poor. That's what we were attempting to do."

"I was shocked when I heard," said Brattleboro Area Drop In Center Executive Director Lucie Fortier. "We're going to have to do what we can to help out. We are going to try to make sure we can serve everybody."

Fortier said the Drop In Center will open its food shelf on Tuesdays starting this week to try to meet the additional need created by the closure of the Community Bible Chapel food shelf.

The Brattleboro Area Drop In Center food shelf has been closed Tuesdays, partly because food was available at the Community Bible Chapel and partly to save money and give staff time to organize and plan for its own food shelf.

"I know a lot of people go there and I told them we were ready to step up and do what we can to help," she said. "This will have an impact on what we do at the drop in center."

The Drop In Center used to be open five days a week, but changed its schedule when food shelves at Community Bible Chapel and at Agape Christian Fellowship on Canal Street started a few years ago.

Fortier said The Brattleboro Area Drop In Center will simply have to find a way to open up on Tuesdays to supply food to those have become reliant on the Community Bible Chapel food. She is going to make the Drop In Center food shelf available to only seniors from 10 a.m. to noon, to try to make it easier for the seniors who have been accustomed to the church food shelf.

The new Tuesday food shelf will be open to everyone from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. Fortier said the Vermont Foodbank has agreed to supply more food to the Drop In Center if there is a drastic spike in the number of people who use the South Main Street center.

"We are going to try to emulate what they have been doing," Fortier said. "It is definitely going to increase what we have to do here."

Alex Bell, of Guilford, said he used the Community Bible Chapel food shelf regularly and was surprised to see a sign on the door last week saying it was closed.

Bell said the site was used by many seniors because it was easy to park near the church, and he said the church also cooked a hot meal and had a clothing distribution center which was open on Tuesday.

All of that has been shut down for now.

"There have been rumors for a few weeks, but no one thought this would happen," Bell said. "It was very comfortable there. It was always crowded and everybody knew you. Not everyone is going to be bale to go over to the drop in center. What's going to happen to them?"

Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at hwtisman@reformer.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 279.