As the BBF regional manager for southeast Vermont, northern Windsor and Orange Counties, and the Springfield area, one of my roles is to build connections and respond to community needs, including one of the most basic and essential needs: food. All children and families should have access to healthy foods. Community-based food security programs help provide essential services in an equitable and destigmatized way so that all kids can thrive.
For a number of years, I have been part of the region’s Food Security Workgroup, which was born out of the Mt. Ascutney Hospital Health Center’s Community Health Improvement Plan (CHIP). The Windsor Food Shelf recently reported to the Food Security Workgroup that food donations were not keeping up with demand. I invited Nan Kilmer-Pariseau of the Windsor Food Shelf and Trisha Paradis of the Springfield Family Center, which also hosts a food shelf, to a recent Regional Council meeting to discuss their programs and their challenges.
“Regional and economic difficulties have increased the numbers of people living on fixed incomes without enough expendable funds to purchase adequate food,” Paradis noted. “Since pre-pandemic times, the number of food-insecure Vermonters has increased from one out of 10 to two out of five. Fifty-two percent of Vermont households report having to choose between paying rent or buying food.”
The Windsor Food Shelf offers a Weekend Lunchbox program for students in K-6th grade and a Food Closet for 7th-12th graders. “The Weekend Lunchbox program serves to stabilize access to food during non-school hours,” Kilmer-Pariseau said. “Our desire is to provide students with adequate nourishment on weekends so that when they come to school, they are ready to learn. Teachers have noticed and commented on students’ improvement in the classrooms.”
“In Vermont, more than 55,000 people are facing hunger—and of that number, more than 13,000 are children,” said Windsor Police Chief Jennifer Frank. “This program helps to make certain that the kids within the Windsor community receive the fuel they need to succeed.”
Through the Food Closet, guidance counselors provide a safe space for Windsor’s middle and high schoolers to pick up food to take home, choosing the items they need. “We feel this model of choice creates a level of empowerment,” Kilmer-Pariseau said. “This program has helped guidance counselors not only to identify kids with food insecurity issues but with other issues they are dealing with in their lives. This not only fills a food security gap but opens these kids up to intervention, possibly providing hope and a way to break the cycle of poverty, addiction, or abuse.”
The Springfield Family Center also serves children and families experiencing food insecurity in a variety of ways. “In the past three years, the Springfield Family Center has worked on fostering partnerships with local and regional food producers to purchase farm raised meats, eggs, and fresh produce to redistribute into the community through the food shelf program,” Paradis said. “Additionally, as an administrative hub for Vermont Everyone Eats, we have fostered relationships with area restaurants who are able to make meals for community members facing adversity. More recently, we formed a relationship with the Springfield Rotary Club, which is helping to put shelf-stable food into food closets at local schools.”
At the recent BBF meeting, both food shelves expressed similar challenges with obtaining enough food to meet area families’ needs. Since I am a member of the Windsor Rotary, I invited Kilmer-Pariseau to come speak to the club to share information about their programs and services, especially those within the schools. To help out, Windsor Police Chief Jennifer Frank offered to host a “Stuff-A-Cruiser” food drive on Tuesday, December 20, outside of the local Price Chopper, providing a list of items for people to purchase to fill up a police cruiser. The donated food will be distributed to children through the Weekend Lunchbox Program.
The event was a tremendous success, and by the end of the day, the cruiser was packed to its roof with much-needed food items. “A big thanks to all who donated food and volunteered at the Windsor Police Department and Windsor Rotary Stuff-A-Cruiser food drive,” Frank said. “Thank you to the volunteers who came out to accept and organize the donations, to those who helped unload the cruisers at the food pantry, and to those who donated funds to help support this great cause.”
“These programs by no means address the root of the food insecurity problems in the home,” Kilmer-Pariseau said. “They alleviate hunger for these children, improving their learning capacity and encouraging a better future. We know there is a much deeper issue, and it will take a community effort to start to dig deep and get to the true problem. This is just us trying to do our small part to help our children grow and feel valued by their community.”
“Food insecurity creates a cycle of health issues, which impacts peoples’ ability to work, learn, and spend quality time with their friends and families,” Paradis said. “Together, we can ensure that no person or family has to worry about where their next meal is coming from.”
Want to help food-insecure people in your area? Need to find a food shelf to support yourself or your family? The Vermont Foodbank offers a Food Shelf Locator on their website, as well as lists of food resources and volunteer opportunities.
This work by the Springfield and Northern Windsor Orange Regional Councils was done with the support of the Couch Family Foundation.