CHESTER, Vt. – As businesses were shutting down and restaurants were forced to close to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus, the Free Range Restaurant chef and owner Jason Tostrup’s first thought was that he needed to do whatever he could to help the community.
Even before Gov. Phil Scott announced the final deadline for all sit-in restaurant closures, Tostrup reached out to community activist and organizer Chris Meyer to come up with a plan to help the folks of Chester and Andover. Tostrup credits Meyer with knowing the people in their community who are most in need.
The result is called Chester Helping Hands, appropriately named by Tostrup’s children. The program helps prepare, and in some cases deliver, meal kits for families who are struggling with food insecurity throughout Chester and Andover during this difficult time. The kits provide full meals for approximately five family members.
Chester Helping Hands has set up a Facebook page as a hub for their efforts. Residents in need of meal assistance, who know of someone locally in need, or who might like to donate either money or goods, can contact both Tostrup and Meyer through here. The group currently has 332 members and is growing rapidly.
At the moment, meals are prepared on Tuesdays and Thursdays with pick-up time between 3-5 p.m. Deliveries can be made for those who can’t get there themselves. The menu is published on the Facebook page along with any other details. The process is straightforward with names checked off on a list just to keep track. No one is turned down, but recipients need to place orders in advance.
In addition to meal kits, Tostrup is also starting a food shelf at his location. With cash donations as well as other food contributions, they will soon be filling grocery bags to help area families who need the resources of a food shelf.
Tostrup credits Okemo Mountain Resort for donating much of their food when they were forced to close as well as his many farmer partners who have unilaterally opened their stores to him. That and ongoing donations are what are helping to keep this program afloat.
Tostrup and Meyer have two primary goals for the program: to bring a positive message of goodwill to the community and to help those in need. “The most important thing is that the people of Chester and Andover know that their neighbors are there for them,” he said.
You can reach out to Chester Helping Hands through their Facebook page at www.facebook.com/groups/850395942102222.
The Free Range Restaurant, located on the green in Chester, is also doing traditional take out during limited hours. To reach them, call 802-875-3346.