December 21, 2014

Cut to benefits means uncertainty at Food Shelf

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Lenny’s Shoe and Apparel staff (from left) Amanda Cashin, Bobbie Jo Roby and Todd McCarthy (far right) presented a $15,020 check to Vermont Foodbank CEO John Sayles (second from right) recently, raised during the company’s annual charity sale. Community donations may become more important as cuts threaten benefit programs. (Observer courtesy photo).

Lenny’s Shoe and Apparel staff (from left) Amanda Cashin, Bobbie Jo Roby and Todd McCarthy (far right) presented a $15,020 check to Vermont Foodbank CEO John Sayles (second from right) recently, raised during the company’s annual charity sale. Community donations may become more important as cuts threaten benefit programs. (Observer courtesy photo).

By Matt Sutkoski

Observer correspondent

November 14th, 2013

The end of the month might become tough for the Williston Community Food Shelf.

That’s when clients, who had their federal food assistance benefits cut, could start flocking to the food shelf at a time when the Vermont Food Bank is less able to provide assistance, said Cathy Michaels, the Williston Community Food Shelf president.

Michaels said she can only hope the community can come through, as it has in the past.

Events in Washington, D.C. and Barre are having a direct effect on the Williston Community Food Shelf, which serves Williston, Richmond, Essex and St. George.

The federal nutrition program known in Vermont as 3SquaresVt suffered cuts on Nov. 1, when the funding via the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act ended.

The law had been enacted in 2009 to boost a struggling economy and save jobs.

Adding to the problem, the Vermont Food Bank, which supplies goods to about 270 food shelves and meal sites around the state, including Williston’s, lost a major donor recently, meaning less help might be coming from the Vermont Food Bank.

Michaels said the funding cut won’t be noticed immediately. “Right now, we’re holding our own,” she said.

That might not be true by the time Thanksgiving approaches. Families will start to run short of cash and food toward the end of the month, and that’s when she might start seeing more people at the food shelf.

During the holiday season, food and monetary donations usually increase as people get into the spirit of giving, Michaels said.

That might get the food shelf through to the end of the year. But donations typically tail off again during the winter, leaving Michaels to wonder how much food will be available to the 300 or so families that show up every month. She expects that 300 number, which represents about 900 people, to grow.

“Most families visit once a month, using our food to supplement their own food budget for the month,” said Sally Stockwell-Metro, the Food Shelf’s operations manager.

Many Williston Community Food Shelf clients come from one or two parent households in which the adults work but do not make enough money to buy an adequate supply of food, Stockwell-Metro said.

“Some are disabled. Several single mothers are not getting support from their children’s fathers, and of course the seniors are on fixed incomes. They live in our neighborhoods, work beside us, and prioritize their children just like we all do. Many are embarrassed to need our help. We assure them that we are all a few paychecks, or a major medical crisis, or a family tragedy away from needing this help. There should be no shame in coming to our food shelf,” Metro said.

The cuts in federal funding leave lower income families in a slightly more precarious situation than before. The cuts that started Nov. 1 mean a family of four would see a $36 cut in monthly benefits, down to $632. That’s roughly $5 per person per day.

It could get worse if Congress doesn’t resolve a dispute over funding for federal food assistance beginning Jan. 1. The House of Representatives wants to cut $39 billion from food benefit programs over the next decade. The Senate is opposed, and there is so far no sign the dispute will be resolved.

Questions over the federal funding leave food shelves like Williston’s unsure of what demand will be like in 2014, Michaels said.

The Williston Community Food Shelf gets roughly 10 percent of its supplies from the Vermont Food Bank, Stockwell-Metro said.

But the Barre-based food bank is having its own troubles. The Vermont Food Bank’s largest perishable food donor said it would no longer be able to make contributions, said Tom Abbiati, Director of Food Resources at the Vermont Food Bank. The organization did not say who that donor is.

Luckily, the Williston Community Food Shelf has other sources of food. Each family who uses the food shelf takes on average 20 pounds of food, including meats donated by Hannaford Supermarkets, and deli and pastry products donated by the likes of Panera and Starbucks, Metro said.

The Williston Community Food Shelf is no stranger to funding and supply crises. In the summer, food and monetary donations usually decrease as potential donors are distracted by vacations and charity drives ebb.

At the same time, demand surges because children are not in school, so they are not getting the meals they usually enjoy during the school year.

In July, because of increased demand and slower donations, the Williston Community Food Shelf was forced to spend $17,000 on food, nearly double its monthly expenditure. The Food Shelf put out a call to residents for donations, and people responded, Michaels said.

“Williston area residents came to the rescue, as they always do when things at the Williston Community Food Shelf begin to look dire,” Michaels said.

“Our community is amazing. The response is always great,” Michaels said. “We could not do this without the volunteers and the businesses and the individuals that support us “

People who wish to donate to or volunteer at the Williston Community Food Shelf can get more information at www.willistonfoodshelf.com.

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