Organization doubles shopping space
BY JASON STARR
The Williston Community Food Shelf moved into more spacious digs this week with larger shelves, new floors and commercial-grade refrigerators and freezers.
The move was prompted by the pandemic, when the organization took over the unit next door to the space at Cornerstone Drive it has occupied for five years to house an increased flow of food donations.
“Then it dawned on us that this is twice the size of the (existing) shopping space,” said food shelf president Ginger Morton, “and it is a much safer space to shop because we can be much more socially distanced.”
On Tuesday, as food shelf shoppers began preparing shopping lists on the sidewalk outside, volunteers were completing a conversion of the existing shopping space into storage and outfitting the storage space with shelves, fridges and freezers to become the main shopping area. Volunteers finalized the swap Wednesday morning by moving food into the new shopping area.
“On Thursday we’re going to open up in here,” Morton said. “We are moving up in the world. It’s really exciting.”
The food shelf is open Tuesday evenings and Thursday and Saturday mornings. Volunteers were able to complete the transition without interrupting operations. The expansion will increase the organization’s rent and utility costs, but Morton credits generous community donations for helping to fund the move.
“We have had an amazing show of support by donors, so we can afford to do this,” she said.
The food shelf changed the way it operates when the pandemic began in the spring of 2020, not allowing shoppers into the space. Instead, shoppers write out shopping lists for volunteers to pack up and bring to them outside. The food shelf will continue to operate that way for the foreseeable future, Morton said.
The refrigerators and freezers, delivered Tuesday by Big Apple Restaurant Supply of Colchester, are glass and typical of what is found in gas stations and convenience stores. They replace residential-style units that were about 20 years old.
“These have more capacity and they are more efficient in terms of electricity consumption,” said Peter Liska of Big Apple Restaurant Supply, which has pledged to perform routine maintenance on the units free of charge. “This is a great investment for them. We will make sure they are well-maintained and they will last them for a long time.”
Morton said the food shelf has seen a significant increase in financial donations during the pandemic, but not an increase in clientele. According to Public Assets Institute, a Montpelier-based state policy analyst group, the state’s poverty rate decreased in 2020 (8.3 percent) compared to 2019 (9.4 percent).
“The economic impact of Covid-19 would have been worse were it not for substantial help from the federal government,” Public Assets Institute’s Sarah Lyons wrote in a report released last Friday.
But several government pandemic relief programs have recently expired, including supplemental unemployment insurance, a moratorium on evictions in rental housing and free motel housing for homeless families (although that program received a 30-day reprieve Tuesday; see story, page 5).
If the expiration of relief programs creates an uptick in food insecurity, the Williston food shelf is ready to meet more demand.
“We are gearing up to have our numbers increase,” said Morton, who notes that the food shelf currently serves about 250 families per month.
The impending conversion of the TownPlace Suites by Marriot hotel in Taft Corners to homeless transitional housing is also expected to increase demand.