Agencies serving food-insecure Vermonters are launching a new network, with strengthened community partnerships and technology upgrades, which they say could revolutionize the way charitable food support is provided to potentially dozens of thousands of beneficiaries in the Champlain Valley.
The familiar food shelf isn’t going away, but in an effort to reduce stigma and reach more people, including people who would struggle to get to traditional collection sites, the largest direct provider of Vermont charity food is modernizing.
“I think it’s a huge transformation,” said Julia MacGibeny, access manager at Feeding Chittenden.
The centerpiece of the new network is an online system born out of the COVID-19 era of curbside ordering. Recipients use it once they are introduced by their health care provider or social service organizations in the network, which can also help people place grocery orders if they are not connected to the technology.
“We know that chronic disease accounts for 70% of all deaths in the United States each year, and poor diet is a real contributor to that,” said Paul Dragon, executive director of the Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity.
The Food Access Network will offer delivery in some cases, more satellite sites and expanded community partnerships in Franklin and Addison counties. Those partnerships will include preschools, community health clinics, family advocacy organizations and groups working to promote locally grown food options, leaders said Wednesday.
“I think it will be replicated nationally,” predicted Rob Meehan, director of Feeding Chittenden. “People will see we haven’t reached the people who need help, there must be other ways to do it – here’s an example of how to do it.”
The grocery portal is connected to Vermont Foodbank’s broader inventory, advocates explained, and aims to provide healthier and more culturally relevant options while reducing food waste.
“It’s not top-down anymore, that we get this food from the government and then distribute it,” MacGibeny said in an interview with NECN & NBC10 Boston. “It’s we ask people what they want, what they need, how they need it, how they want it, and then we do it.”
A $300,000 fundraising campaign for storage space and other needs for the expanded Food Access Network is underway, a CVOEO spokesperson said.