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‘Everyone Eats’ in Vermont — including college students

A volunteer bags food at the Food Center.

As COVID relief efforts continue to disproportionally impact college students –specifically adult dependents – more and more students are facing food and housing insecurity.

Roughly 39% of college students reported food insecurity this past year, according to an annual survey conducted across 227 collegiate schools by Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice at Temple University.

Vermont has implemented measures to address those facing food insecurity as a result of the pandemic and students are no exception.

“Everyone Eats” is a food-relief program that partners with local restaurants and farms to make individually packaged, cold, prepared dinners for anyone suffering adverse effects from the COVID pandemic.

Local distribution hubs can be found in Fair Haven at the Fair Haven Grade School, Rutland at the Vermont Farmers Food Center, and Proctor at the Proctor Library – all of which gladly offer nutritious meals to college students in need.

“Everyone affected by the pandemic is welcome – college students, families, individuals suffering homelessness. It’s been really good for our communities,” said contributing partner Jen Sanford.

Sandford is one of several volunteers that picks up meals from the Vermont Farmer’s Food Center for distribution by program partner, Bread Loaf Mountain Zen Community – a Buddhist temple in Cornwall. She and her organization have been helping to feed and clothe the Rutland homeless population since 2019.

Originally established in September of last year, “Everyone Eats” now has 18 regional partners and over 134 distribution sites statewide. The statewide project was first funded by the federal CARES act and has been continually made possible through a grant provided the Vermont Agency of Commerce and Community Development to Southeastern Vermont Community Action.

While both the Rutland and Proctor locations provide meals on a first-come, first-serve basis, Fair Haven asks that you reserve meals by the Friday before, which can be done through the information below. Meal service runs once a week in Proctor and Fair Haven and three times a week in Rutland typically starting around 4 p.m.

Participating restaurants receive $10 per meal prepared and are asked to incorporate at least 10% locally sourced produce. Local distribution partner Mandy Mitnick, of the Poultney Rotary, said that many contributing restaurants and farms far exceed this expectation and make delicious dinners while they’re at it.

“The program is a help for the farmers because the restaurants have to get a certain percent of their food that they put in the meals from the farms, and it helps the restaurants because they get paid based on how many meals they provide, and it helps the people of Poultney and also the surrounding towns who come to Poultney for the food,” said Mitnick. “We’ve seen people from all walks of life and it’s wonderful.” 

Upon visiting the Rutland location promptly at 4 p.m. on a Wednesday evening, cars were already lined up around the building. With only three volunteers providing meals though a make-shift drive-thru, there was little time to chat, but members and recipients alike seemed overjoyed at the program’s benefits.

Rutland native and meal recipient, Jerry McGee may have said it best when asked why the program benefits the community.

“I mean, the sign says ‘Everyone’s Welcome’! Even an old white man like me!”