On Thursday, April 29, Vermont Everyone Eats, an innovative COVID-19 response program, is celebrating 1 million restaurant meals served to Vermonters experiencing food insecurity. The program was launched in August 2020 with an allocation of $5 million of the state’s Coronavirus Relief Fund contracted by the Agency of Commerce and Community Development to Southeastern Vermont Community Action Agency. The program would have expired in December, but widespread community support and advocacy empowered program and state partners to secure additional funding through FEMA and the program has been extended through the state of emergency.
Of that 1 million meals, about 90,400 will have been served by Upper Valley Everyone Eats (UVEE), the Upper Valley hub for the program, coordinated by Vital Communities in partnership with numerous social service agencies. More recently, Vital Communities and partners obtained funding to create a pilot program modeled on UVEE in Claremont, NH, called Claremont Everyone Eats.
“Everyone Eats is an example of what we as a society can do when we think outside the box and use our resources in innovative ways,” said Vital Communities Executive Director Sarah Jackson. “It has helped restaurants survive by paying them to do make delicious, healthful food for those who need it most, and has strengthened relationships among social service agencies and the food community. It’s been a privilege for Vital Communities to coordinate Upper Valley Everyone Eats.”
This week, UVEE welcomes three new restaurants into its fold, according to UVEE Coordinator Lauren Griswold: The Newbury Village Store & Thistle Cafe (Newbury), The Little Grille (Bradford), and Tacocat (Randolph). It says farewell and thanks to Simon Pearce (Quechee) and Piecemeal Pies (WRJ). Other participating businesses are Maple Street Catering (Hartford), Global Village Food (Windsor), Lake Morey Resort (Fairlee), Moon and Stars (Vershire), and the Windsor Diner (Windsor).
Vermont Everyone Eats program design draws on many of Vermont’s strengths. It puts Vermont’s independent restaurants and robust local food system at the center of feeding their communities. Over 200 Vermont restaurants have contributed to the one million meals, which have contained nearly $1 million of Vermont ingredients.
UVEE is “beyond phenomenal,” said Mel Hall, co-owner of Global Village Foods “I was shocked at how fast it came together, how comprehensive it was, and how it brought in a steady revenue stream for those of us in production.”
The program was created and has developed through powerful, cross-sector, public-private partnerships. Fourteen community “hubs” execute the programming on the ground in all 14 Vermont counties. These hubs represent hundreds of community organizations who are working together to contract meals from participating restaurants, manage delivery logistics, promote the program, and ensure the meals are delivered safely to meal recipients. Jean Hamilton, Vermont Everyone Eats Statewide Coordinator acknowledges the important role of the community hubs, “Vermont is well-known for its community organizations and thank goodness for them. In less than 9 months, our program was launched from a concept to this moment, 1 million local meals delivered to neighbors all across our state. We were able to do this because of the community organizations that stepped up and got right to work. They are the backbone of our community resilience.”
Hamilton sees this moment to celebrate the collective action of the program: “It is the people behind VEE that we are really celebrating today. Starting with the individuals who were courageous enough to step forward and ask for help, the meal recipients and the restauranteurs, to the farmers and food producers, the lawmakers and agency staff, the members of our statewide taskforce, and especially the hub organizers and volunteers – Vermont Everyone Eats is a model of how our communities can rise up together holding our shared vulnerability as an inspiration for progress. Who is your Everyone Eats hero? Please join us in celebrating them today.”