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WESTMINSTER — Vermont Everyone Eats, the program designed to provide nutritious meals to Vermonters impacted by the COVID-19 crisis, is going statewide.

Already underway in various forms in pockets around the state - from Brattleboro to Burlington, from Hardwick down to Chester, and communities in between - the program will soon be brought to scale and made available in a dozen or more regional "Hubs" thanks to a $5 million Coronavirus Relief Fund allocation through the Agency of Commerce & Community Development (ACCD) to Southeastern Vermont Community Action (SEVCA), the statewide administrator and fiscal agent for this program.

The grant for VEE, approved in July as part of the bill H.966 and called Restaurants and Farmers Feeding the Hungry, is "to provide assistance to Vermonters who are food insecure due to the COVID-19 public health emergency by engaging Vermont restaurants that have suffered economic harm due to [that] emergency to prepare meals using foodstuffs purchased from Vermont farms and food producers." It was one of many initiatives supported by that funding, and state agencies and non-profit organizations throughout Vermont have been busy ramping up a range of programs and services to provide relief to thousands of residents whose lives were upended by the pandemic and to help them recover from its impact.

After collaborating with ACCD and a statewide task force to work out the countless details involved in its implementation, SEVCA announces the official rollout across Vermont of this first-of-its-kind effort in the country, with the first Hubs being awarded funding from the grant. To start with, 10 organizations around the state serving their designated regions will receive grants from SEVCA to support their participating restaurants to prepare the meals and the farmers and food producers to supply the ingredients, and to operate and manage the programs in their areas through mid-December. This will be accomplished by providing relief to restaurants struggling to stay in business and keeping their workers employed, who will apply their skills and expertise to produce high quality, healthy meals for food-insecure Vermonters.

In partnership with local food shelves, shelters, other service providers, businesses, community coalitions, and private citizens, they're already producing and distributing 11,000 meals per week, and by its peak following the statewide rollout, that number is projected to rise to over 20,000 meals per week, significantly more that required by the grant.

On the average, at least 10 percent of the ingredients used by the participating restaurants to prepare the meals will be locally-sourced, coming from farms and other food producers located in Vermont. At present, more than 90 Vermont restaurants and over 60 Vermont-based farms have signed on to the program, with more being added weekly, and the organizations already signed up or applying to serve as Hubs and receive a VEE grant include: Bar Antidote/Boys & Girls Club of Greater Vergennes; Center for an Agricultural Economy in Hardwick; Downtown Brattleboro Alliance; Green Mountain Farm to School in Newport; Localvore statewide online platform; ShiftMeals/Capstone in Washington, Lamoille , and Orange counties; Springfield Family Center/Chester Helping Hands; Vermont Farmers Food Center in Rutland County; Vital Communities/Upper Valley Haven; Wilmington Works; and ShiftMeals in Chittenden County.

For more information on the program, to find out how to reserve meals, review the Request for Proposals, apply to serve as a Hub, or request the inclusion of a restaurant in this program, visit the Vermont Everyone Eats page on SEVCA's website at www.sevca.org/vt-everyone-eats or contact Jean Hamilton at VEE@sevca.org or Kevin Brennan at kbrennan@sevca.org.


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