Vermont Everyone Eats program slated to end next year

Published: Dec. 28, 2022 at 6:06 PM EST|Updated: Dec. 28, 2022 at 8:01 PM EST
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CHESTER, Vt. (WCAX) - A food security program that started during the pandemic could be running out of money in the new year.

Since Vermont’s Everyone Eats program began in August 2020, nearly 3.5 million meals have been distributed across the state, with hundreds of restaurants taking part, including The Pizza Stone in Chester.

“There was a lot of panic, there was a lot of people wondering where they were going to get their next meal. Their jobs had just dropped out from underneath them,” said owner Darlene Doane.

But when COVID hit, Doane didn’t panic. The Pizza Stone immediately switched to a takeout-only model and eventually started distributing a personal pie and salad to hungry people through the Vermont Everyone Eats program.

“Community is huge and to able to be as much of the community as I am with this business it’s been really a blessing,” Doane said.

Participating restaurants are paid $10 per meal, which are then handed out for free. Since it began, it has provided a steady cash flow for business while helping those in need.

“When you talk about Vermont and think about your rural communities, this is it,” said Chris Meyer, a special project coordinator for Vermont Everyone Eats.

And it’s not just restaurants who benefited. At least 10% of the ingredients for each meal must be sourced from local farms or value-added food producers.

“This has brought together people who have never collaborated before and made them a community statewide feeding people but also boosting farmers, boosting restaurants,” Meyer said.

But the program is slated to end at the end of March. It has cost about $20 million a year to run and for the first two years federal funds have picked up the tab.

“There is no one who is saying that Vermont Everyone Eats should continue at the expense of other programs that are also working to help the people of Vermont,” said Amanda Witman with Vermont Everyone Eats.

The state currently kicks in 10% of the total cost, roughly $1.3 million, but that money is quickly drying up.

“We are looking ahead to what at the things that could after that don’t require $20 million a year to run. And how can we take the things that we learned from this program and carry them forward in a way that will continue benefiting Vermont in perpetuity,” Witman said.

One thing they’re learning is that there is a great need for prepared meals. Currently, 29,000 are made every week. And participating businesses say while the pandemic has, for the most part, ended, things are still not back to normal.

“There are still people afraid to go out, there are still people wearing masks, COVID is still here,” Doane said.

At the Pizza Stone, they are preparing for the end of the program by shifting their Everyone Eats model to wholesaling directly to local businesses.

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