WESTMINSTER, Vt. — After 32 months, seven program extensions, and over 3.6 million meals distributed, the Vermont Everyone Eats (VEE) pandemic relief program ended on March 31. Between August 2020 and March 2023, VEE has benefited tens of thousands of Vermonters by providing economic stabilization for independent restaurants, strengthening their relationships with farmers and food producers, and contributing significantly to statewide anti-hunger efforts during a time when food insecurity hit record highs.
With its unique cross-sector approach, engaging local restaurants in providing prepared meals with local ingredients for community members in need, the Vermont Everyone Eats program leveraged over $46 million in federal Covid relief funding. According to Environmental Economist Elizabeth Schuster, VEE’s multiplier effect—recirculating a single federal dollar across multiple local businesses—has likely catalyzed as much as $66 million in additional local spending.
At the start of the Covid emergency, state agency representatives, local and regional anti-hunger advocates, and economic development organizations established this innovative, wide-scale, multi-sector emergency response.
Collaborating entities in creating and coordinating Vermont Everyone Eats include Capstone Community Action, the Center for an Agricultural Economy, Chester Helping Hands, the Downtown Brattleboro Alliance, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Food Connects, Green Mountain Farm-to-School, Hunger Free Vermont, Intervale Center, Localvore, MamaSezz, Northeast Kingdom Community Action (NEKCA), ShiftMeals, Southeastern Vermont Community Action (SEVCA), Springfield Family Center, The Collaborative, The Giving Fridge; Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food, and Markets, Vermont Agency of Commerce and Community Development (ACCD), Vermont Agency of Human Services (AHS); Vermont Department of Disabilities, Aging, and Independent Living (VDAIL), Vermont Community Foundation (VCF), Vermont Department of Public Safety, Vermont Emergency Management (VEM), Vermont Farmers Food Center (VFFC), Vermont Foodbank, Vermont Fresh Network (VFN), Vermont Independent Restaurants (VTIR), the Vermont State Legislature, Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund (VSJF), Vital Communities, Wilmington Works, and others, including over 700 restaurants, farms, food producers, community organizations, and distribution partners throughout Vermont.
“The extraordinary impact of Vermont Everyone Eats was made possible by unprecedented collaboration among various entities across the state. The value of a multi-sector approach in efficiently combining efforts and resources informs a compelling model for future efforts,“ said Amanda Witman, Communications and Stakeholder Engagement Coordinator for Vermont Everyone Eats.
With multiple state and federal benefits programs ending or decreasing, and the economic challenges of the pandemic still lingering, it is a difficult time for many individuals and businesses. But the successes of VEE are spurring local partnerships to develop new ways to address community needs and creatively driving conversations around what comes next.
“Vermont Everyone Eats’ Covid-19 efforts are coming to a close, but the innovation is still going strong,” says VEE Task Force member Stephanie Bonin. “VEE showed us that our impact can be huge when we come together to meet our collective needs. I am excited to keep restaurant entrepreneurs, chefs, and staff in the food security conversation, because we are a powerhouse for change.”
The VEE Task Force, in partnership with the Vermont Community Foundation, has funded several local initiative pilot projects to carry forward elements of the VEE model. The VEE momentum is also fueling other initiatives in communities across the state. Some examples:
- Senior Solutions, Chester Helping Hands, and Springfield Family Center are collaborating to provide restaurant meals as a supplemental option for existing Meals on Wheels recipients in areas of Windsor County.
- The Giving Fridge, a Middlebury-based initiative launched in December 2020, will continue to distribute donation-funded meals via automated refrigerators and heated food lockers.
- New Moon Catering in Burlington continuesto raise funds through their business and recently received ARPA funding, which will allow them to continue offering free meals in partnership with a local café.
- Vermont Farmers Food Center has launched Rutland County Eats, a VEE-inspired program that will distribute 200 meals per week after VEE ends, funded by an online market where additional prepared meals are sold to the wider community.
The legacy of the VEE program continues through these and many other efforts.
For more information on VEE-inspired local initiatives, ongoing food resources, and program partners, visit the Vermont Everyone Eats website at www.vteveryoneeats.org.