Vermont Food Bank shines with help from volunteers
The Brattleboro Distribution Center employs about six people and delivers food all over southern Vermont, but the real stars, Matthew Linn, a driver at the Brattleboro Distribution Center, said is their volunteers.
"The whole thing couldn't happen without the volunteers," he said.
Ron Rembisz, Jim Gay, and Tim Burns are three of the nearly 50 volunteers at the Brattleboro Distribution center.
The Food Bank gets donations from grocery stores and individuals. Donations include food, pet food, paper towels and outdated or damaged items. Volunteers go through the donations, separate human and pet food and throw out things that are damaged.
Gay started volunteering about a month ago. After he retired, he decided to volunteer at the Food Bank because it was close to where he lived.
"I've been lucky to not have ever been food insecure," he said. Food insecurity is when an individual lacks consistent access to food.
Gay has helped out the New Hampshire Food Bank in the past, so it seemed natural to help the Vermont Food Bank. He's also helped out with programs like Meals on Wheels.
"It just seemed like the natural thing to do," he said. He enjoys working with people who are giving back to the community.
"That's really what it's all about," he said.
Burns has been volunteering at the Food Bank for a year. He said it's the first place he came across. After the 2016 Presidential election, Burns felt like he needed to do something.
"I needed to make this world a better place because there's too much anger in it," he said. "Being angry doesn't cure."
It was obvious from the start that his work at the Food Bank was making the world a better place.
"Plenty of people need food," he said. "It just made sense that someone was trying this kind of endeavor."
His favorite part of volunteering is talking to other volunteers and employees.
"Generally speaking — the people that you're volunteering with — chances are, they're pretty good people," he said. "When you have a regular job chances are you can't pick the people you work with."
Burns said he's never stressed before about where his next meal was coming from, but he's sure he knows plenty of people who are food insecure.
Rembisz started volunteering four months ago, after he retired. He said he's known about the Food Bank for a while now.
"I like what they do and I didn't want to think too much," he said. He likes to help package food and to glean, an activity where Food Bank staff and volunteers go to local farms and harvest produce.
He recommends the Food Bank to other people looking to volunteer. "It's got a good heart," he said. "It's a part of a movement that needs to happen."
The movement, he said, is about feeding people.
Some of the volunteers come from the Vermont Associates for Training and Development, a program that helps people 55 and over.
"Older people have a harder time getting hired," Edward Katuska, administrative coordinator at the Brattleboro Distribution Center, said. "I think a lot of companies are hesitant to hire them because they know they're going to retire in a couple of years."
The program lets people get paid for volunteer service.
"Some of the people were maybe injured or sick and, have been out of the workforce for a while," Katuska said. "It gets them back in the groove and this way they always have a reference."
Hanna Snyder, the Food Bank's volunteer coordinator, said that there are 2,000 Food Bank volunteers total in Vermont. She said people join the Food Bank to give back.
"People really want to give back to their community. Often, many people have experienced hunger in their own life," she said. Volunteers make up eight full-time positions at the Brattleboro distribution center alone, Snyder said.
"We absolutely couldn't do anything without our volunteers," she said.
As the holiday season moves forward, the Food Bank becomes especially busy. This Thanksgiving, a lot of pantries are trying to give out full meals or baskets, Linn said. He said the Food Bank gives out about 28,000 pounds of produce alone on Thanksgiving. On a non-holiday basis, Linn said, the bank gives out about 21,000 pounds of produce a week.
The Food Bank has a number of programs in addition to standard distribution such as the Veggie VanGo program or the BackPack Program. The BackPack Program provides kids with food that's meant to last them the weekend. Veggie VanGo, is a program that delivers fresh vegetables to food pantries, hospitals and schools.
In 2016, Linn said, the Food Bank fed one in four Vermonters.
"Vermont's kind of a weird state," Linn said. "The economy isn't real strong."
Chris Thayer, the distribution branch manager, said the Brattleboro Distribution Center covers from Brattleboro to Manchester, to some agencies in Rutland and downwards.
Thayer said the Food Bank doesn't necessarily need more volunteers during the holidays, but it does need more food. The rate at which people give food stays steady throughout the year.
"We need more food all the time," he said. "We may get a truckload of food in and within two weeks it will all be gone."
Despite the challenges of feeding Vermont, Thayer said he's lucky to do his job here.
"We live in an incredibly giving state," he said. "It's kind of amazing."
If you're interested in joining the Food Bank go to www.vtfoodbank.org or email Snyder at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Harmony Birch can be reached at email@example.com, at @Birchharmony on Twitter and 802-254-2311, Ext. 153.
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