Today’s blog is written by Alex Bornstein, Chief Operations Officer at the Vermont Foodbank.

Vernon School students help sort food

Vernon School students help sort food at the warehouse in Brattleboro.

The Vermont Foodbank’s Brattleboro warehouse, one of four Foodbank warehouses serving Vermont, has increased pounds distributed by 37% over the last two years, serving as a major catalyst for the Foodbanks overall 23% statewide growth during the same time period.  Distribution to Bennington County (+26%) and Windsor County (+112%), both areas identified as requiring enhanced Foodbank support, increased significantly as well.

Brattleboro has achieved this growth due to localized donor support, rapidly expanding VeggieVanGo (formerly known as Direct Distribution) distributions at low-income housing sites across southern Vermont in cooperation with Support and Services at Home (SASH), and increasing delivery frequency to the Foodbank’s Network Partners with a focus on fresh produce.

The Brattleboro warehouse is fortunate to be located in close proximity to multiple major food donors that have steadily increased their support of the Foodbank in the past few years.  These donors include: C&S Wholesale Grocers, Commonwealth Dairy, United Natural Foods Inc., and Against the Grain Gourmet.  Increased food rescue pounds from retailers like Hannaford, Price Chopper, Aldi, and Shaw’s have also contributed to Brattleboro’s ability to distribute more food in their service area.

One lesser-known source of donated food is from partner foodbanks around the northeast.  Both Foodshare in Bloomfield, CT and the Rhode Island Community Food Bank in Providence, RI regularly offer excess product to the Vermont Foodbank, product that we are more than happy to accept.

C&S and GenerationOn work with Foodbank staff in Brattleboro.

C&S and GenerationOn work with Foodbank staff in Brattleboro.

The Brattleboro warehouse, under the leadership of Brattleboro Branch Manager Chris Thayer, has rapidly engaged with Support and Services at Home (SASH), as well as independent food shelves and apartment associations, to grow the Foodbank’s VeggieVanGo program.  The goal of the program is to distribute vegetables and other healthy products directly to households at low-income housing sites across the state, alleviating the need for transportation and creating a community-wide, farmers market-like experience for households in need.  In its first year of operation the VeggieVanGo program has been wildly successful in southern Vermont, serving twenty five housing sites and over 1,200 individuals monthly, including 360 children.  Through this program alone Brattleboro distributed 440,000 pounds of high-quality food in southern Vermont during the past year.

The Brattleboro warehouse has also employed a tried and true method of increasing the Foodbank’s support to Network Partners: deliver more, more frequently.  Brattleboro has significantly increased the frequency of their deliveries to Bennington and Windsor counties, providing a steady stream of fresh product to our partner sites.  This increased frequency allows partner agencies to utilize existing storage facilities on a rolling basis, storing less and distributing more, circumventing the typical perishable long-term storage issues faced by many of our partners.

So what does the future hold for the Vermont Foodbank’s Brattleboro warehouse?  We plan on achieving growth through the continued expansion of the VeggieVanGo program into additional housing sites and, for the first time, into two large healthcare facilities in southern Vermont.  Both Southern Vermont Medical Center in Bennington and Grace Cottage Hospital in Townsend have partnered with the Vermont Foodbank to bring monthly VeggieVanGo distributions to their facilities.  We are extremely excited to partner with these trusted community facilities as we continue to explore ways to get fresh, healthy products to Vermonters in need.

The success of the Brattleboro warehouse over the past six years, and the lessons we’ve learned during that time, have greatly impacted how we’re currently approaching the launch of our latest warehouse in Rutland.  It’s clear from our experience in Brattleboro that when you pair good warehouse design with a great team, and a supportive community with supportive donors, we can significantly impact the well-being of our Network Partners and our clients.

To support the work of food deliveries, statewide, to people in need, please MAKE A GIFT TODAY!