BRATTLEBORO — Vermont Everyone Eats, a COVID-19 response program, this week celebrated one million restaurant meals served to Vermonters experiencing any of the negative effects of the pandemic.
The program was launched in August 2020 with an allocation of $5 million of the state’s Coronavirus Relief Fund contracted by the Agency of Commerce and Community Development to Southeastern Vermont Community Action Agency. The program would have expired in December, but widespread community support and advocacy empowered the program and state partners to secure additional funding through FEMA and the program has been extended through the state of emergency.
In Brattleboro, Everyone Eats will be serving the 150,000th meal from its hub. In addition to the federal dollars, the Brattleboro hub has raised over $10,000 which has allowed for supplemental programs like the community Thanksgiving and recently the purchasing of breakfast sandwiches to support those residents at the Quality Inn who have been in quarantine.
“We have all looked at the world with different perspectives this year and felt new feelings. The urgency of the COVID moment moved us to swift action in innovative ways,” said Stephanie Bonin, executive director of the Downtown Brattleboro Alliance and the Brattleboro hub for Everyone Eats. “What was impossible, like spending $10 a meal to feed people, became possible. What had never been done before, one program supporting all: restaurants, farmers, mental health, community and people needing to eat — has now been achieved in a big way.”
The Everyone Eats program was designed to draw on many of Vermont’s strengths, putting independent restaurants and robust local food system at the center of feeding their communities. Over 200 Vermont restaurants have contributed to the one million meals, which have contained nearly $1 million of Vermont ingredients. Throughout the last nine months, the local community has stepped up and offered countless hours of volunteering at the Monday through Thursday distribution spot on Flat Street or through community partners like Dummerston Cares, Loaves & Fishes, Boys & Girls Club and 15 others. The accomplishment of 150,000 meals sourced, created and eaten is because of a 66-strong group of core organizers.
“It is one of the most brilliant community and revenue building programs I have heard of,” said Erin Sprandel of Echo Restaurant & Lounge. “Honored to be a part!”
The program was created through cross-sector, public-private partnerships. A total of 14 community “hubs” execute the programming on the ground in all 14 Vermont counties. These hubs represent hundreds of community organizations that are working together to contract meals from participating restaurants, manage delivery logistics, promote the program, and ensure the meals are delivered safely to meal recipients.
“Vermont is well-known for its community organizations and thank goodness for them,” said Jean Hamilton, statewide coordinator for Vermont Everyone Eats. “In less than nine months, our program was launched from a concept to this moment, 1 million local meals delivered to neighbors all across our state. We were able to do this because of the community organizations that stepped up and got right to work. They are the backbone of our community resilience.”