This is the second in a series of portraits of some of the restaurants, caterers, growers, social service agencies, and meal recipients who are a part of Upper Valley Everyone Eats. UVEE is the local hub of Vermont Everyone Eats, a Vermont coronavirus relief program that pays Vermont restaurants $10/meal to prepare free, nutritious meals to Vermonters experiencing food insecurity. The program accomplishes three goals: providing a revenue stream to hard-hit local restaurants, providing food to Vermonters in need, and supporting the state’s local agricultural economy, by stipulating that at least 10% of meal ingredients must be sourced locally.
By Cameron Huftalen, Upper Valley Everyone Eats Project Manager
One of the most important facets of our Upper Valley regional Everyone Eats program is the role that schools play in our community web. Schools have long been an integral part of food access work due to the strides they have made in feeding students – whether through school breakfast, school lunch, backpack programs, or after-school snack options. It just makes sense that they would take that compassionate work and dedication and apply it to working with the Everyone Eats program.
While programs like school lunches are so necessary to keep students fed and able to focus throughout the day comfortably, oftentimes those students have other family members at home that are experiencing the same food insecurity they are. Everyone Eats seeks to help address that need by providing meals students take home – a measure that has proven incredibly effective.
As school came back into session for the fall, we saw enrollment numbers with schools go up for the program. Furthermore, we’re grateful to the school employee partners we work with that have a deeply rooted understanding of their students’ needs and can quickly adapt to them. For example, just recently we had a school partner reach out about upping their weekly meal count as some new students started engaging with the program, and our partner thought their families could benefit from the added support of prepared meals. The role that high-quality, nutritious, filling meals that are ready to eat play in combating hunger can’t be understated – but it takes a full community to fight that battle.
Just as our school partners are so necessary to the success of the program, so too are our restaurant partners invaluable.
Brandon Fox of Maple Street Catering and Big Fatty’s BBQ has been a long-term partner with the program. When the pandemic was at its height, the ability to receive a steady income from the UVEE program gave him the ability to retain some employees on payroll and make it easier for them to weather the closures. In the time since, business has picked back up for Brandon and his crew, and we were able to shift the program to allow his team to focus on their catering and restaurant needs.
However, as schools returned to session and one of Maple Street Catering’s previous UVEE partners – Hartland Elementary School – was in need of meals for students and their families, Brandon and his team stepped back up to fill the need. Rather than being fueled by an economic need like their involvement two years ago was, this time Brandon is factoring it into Maple Street Catering’s plans in order to fill a need for the community.
Linda Johnson, an administrative assistant and coordinator for UVEE meals at Hartland Elementary School, comments, “Maple Street has done a wonderful job.” but I want to highlight the wonderful job that she herself does! Linda has always been so responsive and adaptive throughout the program when changes and adjustments have needed to be made. She is constantly thinking about how to help the community out in creative ways, and even attended the Vermont Everyone Eats Prepared Meals virtual symposium!
And we couldn’t forget our rockstar volunteer Bob, who makes weekly deliveries of meals from Maple Street Catering to Hartland Elementary School!
We are truly grateful to work with partners like Linda, Bob, and Brandon and his whole team at Maple Street Catering. This work relies on community members coming together, and these three and their respective teams definitely exemplify that.
Please continue to join us as we look to address issues of hunger in our Upper Valley community, and join us in recognizing our community partners from restaurants to schools for all the work they come together to do in the fight against hunger.