This op-ed is authored by four women around the state of Vermont.
Stephanie Bonin, Downtown Brattleboro Alliance and Everyone Eats Brattleboro hub director:
Raisins in your stuffing. Running 3.2 miles at your town’s Turkey Trot. A shared Thanksgiving meal at your community church sitting next to a person you just met. Each of us has our own holiday traditions, many of which will look very different this year. This is a loss, and we all feel it. But abundance remains in our community — an abundance of love, food and people taking care of each other.
Vermont Everyone Eats (VEE) is a program that is funded by the federal Coronavirus Relief Fund and made possible through a grant provided by the Vermont Agency of Commerce and Community Development to Southeastern Vermont Community Action. VEE is not only addressing how we approach food insecurity, saving our businesses, and supporting our local farmers and producers, but also how we can change our thinking around our solutions and holistically approach the needs of our community. If there’s any disagreement about who this program helps more, we are in a good position.
To date and statewide, Vermont Everyone Eats has distributed over 200,000 meals, supported over 100 restaurants and worked with many Vermont farmers and producers. And to celebrate Thanksgiving, VEE hubs around the state will distribute 30,000 meals. In some communities, restaurants will be providing turkey with all the fixings, while others are providing creative alternatives to the holiday. The holiday spirit invites us all to step in and both give and receive. If abundance of love and food is there, then what we have left to find is hope. Thousands of Vermonters have participated in Everyone Eats; we turn to three of them to share their Thanksgiving story and how they find hope during a pandemic that has changed everything.
Leda Scheintaub, co-owner of Dosa Kitchen restaurant, Brattleboro:
After five years as a food truck, Dosa Kitchen opened its first brick-and-mortar on February 1, 2020. That six-week honeymoon period was followed by closing then regrouping to serve our customers safely via outdoor dining and curbside pickup. When the Brattleboro Everyone Eats Hub launched, it quickly became our number one source of income. While restaurants throughout the world have been closing by scores, EE has helped keep Brattleboro’s dining culture alive.
I grew up vegetarian, and while my parents were still around, I would cook our traditional Thanksgiving lasagna in their home in upstate New York. Recent Thanksgivings have centered around friends and turkey from Wild Carrot Farm, but in the spirit of my family heritage, my husband, Nash Patel, and I will be cooking an all-American vegetarian meal option for Everyone Eats! this holiday. Testing out and scaling up our recipes to feed 100+leftovers has put me in a full-hearted state of anticipation reminiscent of shared holidays past and hopeful for days when everyone eats at the table together again.
Jean Hamilton, Vermont Everyone Eats state coordinator:
Seven years ago, my life was in transition. As is often true with transitions, I was overcome with many different feelings: fear, excitement, hope, and uncertainty. Amidst these feelings, I decided to “politely” decline my family’s Thanksgiving invitation and instead travel to New Orleans, a place I go when I need to consult my heart and soul. The dynamic land and vibrant culture of New Orleans has taught me to welcome the unexpected. My host had no plans for a sit-down feast; rather we shared oyster dressing (because I insisted), hand pies, and other goodies we collected on our way to the horse race. Turns out Thanksgiving is the opening day at the famous Fair Grounds Race Track! No turkey. No mashed potatoes. No grumpy relatives. Though I missed these traditions, I am forever grateful for the new friends I made and the reminder that within the discomfort of uncertainty lies opportunities to adapt, learn, and expand our hearts.
This year, I call on the lessons learned from that New Orleans Thanksgiving as I don’t know exactly what my Thanksgiving table will look like or who will be around it. But I am filled with hope by the spontaneous care and community I have observed across Vermont in response to the painful challenges we have faced this year. I am grateful for the adaptability and resilience demonstrated by my neighbors, friends, and colleagues in the face of many hard realities. Everyone Eats has shown me that abundance is always available to us, when we come together to ask for help and share our strengths.
Tara Pereira, Vermont Fresh Network executive director:
When we were younger, my husband and I would sometimes spend Thanksgiving day at the movie theater and then order takeout. But now, like many, my holidays involve either traveling to visit family in Vermont or visiting family in other states. This year, Thanksgiving will look different. And that’s okay. I’m looking forward to cooking a small and locally grown Thanksgiving dinner for our family of four and eating together.
Difficult times reveal the things that we most value. Right now, I think about the importance of connection and community. Cooking and feeding others is a bridge to both. In 2020, our farmers played a vital role helping us access food in new ways by adding CSAs, farm stands, and online ordering to their business. While many businesses had to shut down this year our farmers couldn’t. Chickens still laid eggs, cows still provided milk and our farms still raised the turkeys that many have on their tables.
We all may live in different regions of the state, but the Vermont Everyone Eats program reminds us how large our community really is and how generous it is. Volunteers, local farms, local restaurants and statewide partners have all made this program possible. As we sit down to a smaller holiday dinner table this year, raise your glass and take a moment. Send warm thoughts to all our neighbors across the state and the farmers who played a large role in bringing this meal to your table.
COVID-19 is being seen as an accelerant of the problems that have been with us for a long time. We were fragile before this health and economic crisis hit, and volunteer-led events like community Thanksgivings all over the state were critical in meeting the needs of Vermonters. Everyone Eats stepped in as a new approach to connect our business community, local food systems and food insecurity systems as part of the solution. Hope will come in the form of what we take away from this global crisis. Could what we learn from this collaboration be something we can continue to call on to build resilience long after the crisis is over?