With the close of 2020 came a pause for Upper Valley Everyone Eats (UVEE), the local hub of Vermont’s coronavirus relief program, Vermont Everyone Eats (VEE), which pays Vermont restaurants $10/meal to prepare free meals for Vermonters in need. VEE is on pause while the partners explore funding options through various channels. Given the ongoing nature of the pandemic and its impact on our local economies, there is great hope for funding to restart the program.

Pausing is such sweet sorrow, but this week of reflection has filled us with pride for our Upper Valley community, its compassionate, collaborative pandemic response, and the unique way this program has enabled us all to play an active role in supporting our neighbors. Between September 8 and December 30, UVEE’s seven stellar restaurant partners prepared and distributed 47,029 nutritious meals to 37 Upper Valley food shelves, community dinners, and senior centers. Better yet, they sourced an average of 34% of their ingredient costs from local farmers and food producers—amplifying the value of their revenue within the region and state. At $10 a meal, those 47,029 meals translate into $470,290 for our local food service economy. UVEE served 34,127 individuals, 22,959 households, and 9,358 seniors, just about all of whom were experiencing food insecurity. 

We know these meals served meal recipients in more ways than one, though. The pandemic has ravaged household finances and employment, incurring a wake of anxiety, fear, and stress, as we all adjust to the myriad changes and demands of pandemic life. The ready-to-eat meals UVEE distributed supported household food security, but when they did that, they also took a little weight off the shoulders of caregivers and single parents, raised awareness among health care center staff about the level of food insecurity in the communities they serve, and provided cause for a little more actual facetime for seniors living alone without transportation. “The free meals gave me an excuse to go to the door and check on them,” Deanna Jones, Executive Director of Woodstock’s senior center, The Thompson, said. “I know it was a big relief and simply an encouragement to so many. It really was a great community connection from that perspective.”

This sense of community care was also spurred by the local proximity of meal distribution. While many of our restaurants delivered batches of meals to distribution hubs so that they could be distributed widely across our region, some distributed directly within their own towns, engendering a sense of localized support. In their hometown of Vershire, for example, Moon and Stars prepared from-scratch empanadas and tamales, made from local ingredients, fresh to order every week, out of their food truck. In Quechee, Simon Pearce prepared a weekly batch of savory shepherd’s pies, chili, and pot pies to families at the Ottauquechee School, just two minutes up the road. The Windsor Diner adapted to the varying levels of community need right in that town, with bi-weekly pick-ups from two food shelves, and the town’s Veggie Van Go, a monthly food distribution event that serves over 350 people. After the October distribution, Jill Lord, the Director of Community Health at Mt. Ascutney Hospital wrote, “I gave out the meals this morning. I wish you could have seen the faces of the people as I offered them meals and told them they were from the Windsor Diner. Their eyes got sooo big and their gratitude was overflowing! Thank you for the opportunity to participate in this.”

These meals aren’t just mealsthey’re from the restaurant down the road, the one you used to go to for your kids’ birthdays, or breakfast meet-ups with old friends, the hometown restaurant, run by your neighbor, who went to the same high school as you. This program has connected neighbors through mutual benefit, not only relieving economic stressors but invoking the empowering feeling of community itself.

As Justin Barrett, Chef and Owner of Piecemeal Pies put it, “We’re able to keep our team busy and keep them working full time. It’s honestly the best time of our week; knowing the folks that we’re feeding is really rewarding for our entire team. I really hope we can find a way to continue this. COVID, while it’s a disaster, there are opportunities here, and I think this program demonstrates what an opportunity it is to connect those who grow, those who cook, those who eat, together. I’m really grateful and really excited about this project.”

The night before Thanksgiving, Justin wrote that that same Piecemeal Pies team had “brined 120 pounds of organic turkeys, shoved some herb butter under the skin and roasted them. For the sides: turkey gravy, sage pesto, parsnip potato mash, mushroom stuffing, delicata squash agro dulce, juniper cranberry sauce, and chocolate bourbon pecan pie.” I think that Thanksgiving menu for the Thompson Senior Center really speaks for itself, but to hammer it home: we are so, so lucky to have the restaurants that we do here in the Upper Valley. They’re hubs of talent and passion, not just for food, but for community, too—the very essence of a busy restaurant, on a joyous night or morning. From the vantage point of UVEE, we can report: the pandemic hasn’t tarnished that passion our local businesses have for community—their community.

We want to express immense gratitude to the partners that have made this program possible: the Upper Valley Haven and Listen Community Services for coordinating, distributing, and serving as distribution hubs; our restaurants, Global Village Cuisine, Maple Street Catering, Lake Morey Resort, Piecemeal Pies, the Windsor Diner, Moon and Stars, and Simon Pearce, who have put so much care and flexibility into this program; our meal sites, which I’ll list below, that passed thousands of meals out every week and tracked the program’s data. It’s been inspiring working with you. 

UVEE Meal Sites
Listen Community Services’ nightly community dinners
Hotel housing people experiencing homelessness: Super 8
Hotel housing people experiencing homelessness: Comfort Inn
Hotel housing people experiencing homelessness: Shady Lawn
Hotel housing people experiencing homelessness: South on Five
The Upper Valley Haven
Thompson Senior Center
The Family Place
Hartland Food Shelf
Sharing & Caring Food Pantry
West Fairlee Food Pantry
Hartford High School
Thetford Food Shelf
South Royalton Food Shelf
Groton Food Shelf
Vershire Food Shelf
Chelsea Food Shelf
Trinity Evangelical Free Church Food Shelf
Weathersfield Food Shelf
Windsor Veggie Van Go
Windsor Meals on Wheels
White River School
Bradford Public Library
Ottauquechee School
Bethel Food Shelf
Hartford Memorial Middle School
Dothan Brook School
Bradford Elementary School
Windsor School
Woodstock Food Shelf
Bradford Food Shelf
Bradford Teen Center
The Wilder School
Newbury Elementary School
Share the Harvest, Wells River
Tunbridge Central School

We believe in this program and have hope that it will be renewed. The need is significant, the partners are passionate about continuing this work, and we remain optimistic about VEE’s ability to secure further funding.

Last but not least, a note from Jean Hamilton, “If you have help to give, please support your neighbors in need, including local restaurants. Remember, if you want them to be here tomorrow, please buy local today.”

If you have questions or interest in UVEE, email us at uvee@vitalcommunities.org.