The Vermont Agency of Natural Resources and the Vermont Foodbank announced today a 40% increase in food donations in 2016, topping the 25-30% increase seen in 2015. This announcement comes during September’s Hunger Action Month. It confirms healthier, fresher foods like fruits, vegetables and frozen meat, are making their way into refrigerators and onto plates of Vermonters in need.
“The energy around these new partnerships is contagious. Vermont’s Universal Recycling Law is making lives better, improving nutrition and choice at food shelves, and reducing waste at landfills,” said Deb Markowitz, Secretary of the Agency of Natural Resources.
The Vermont Foodbank started its Fresh Rescue Program in 2014 when it faced challenges managing growing amounts and types of donated food. Hannaford Supermarkets, for example, had perishable food to donate that was difficult for the Foodbank to retrieve because of its volume, location, and the frequency of pick-ups needed. At the same time, Vermont’s Universal Recycling law was beginning to take effect for large grocery stores. Said John Sayles, CEO of Vermont Foodbank, “To address this challenge, we activated our statewide network of agencies, connecting partner food shelves and meal sites directly with area Hannaford Supermarkets to keep perishable food local.”
In 2016, Lieutenant Scott Murray of the Salvation Army of Greater Burlington Area reported, “We are spending less than $500 a month on food and we’ll serve around 40,000 meals this year. That works out to a food cost per meal of under $0.07 versus about $1.47 two years ago. And the quality of what we’re serving is so much better than before we started getting these particular fresh food donations — healthy and nutritious meals, fresh fruits and vegetables and new dinner offerings such as kale, pork, chicken and so much more. This program has changed how we cook, what we serve, and benefits so many people. There is no way we could afford to buy the same food as is donated.”
Northwest Family Foods, a food shelf program serving Franklin and Grand Isle Counties, recently reported a 55% increase in food shelf visits after being a pilot pickup location for the Fresh Food Rescue Program. They attribute the increase not to new visitors, but to more frequent use by those already being served, in part because they were able to offer better fresh food, more reliably than ever before.
The Milton Family Center, another pilot pickup location of the Program, also reports great success. According to Food Shelf Coordinator Cheryl Alwine, “The Fresh Rescue Program has been fabulous; much of the food is in very good condition. The produce usually lasts from one pickup to the next, so most people coming in for food shelf food are getting a bag of vegetables or fruit, many times both. Last week, we had so much fruit—apples, oranges, and pears!”
By the end of the first year of the program in 2014, sixteen Fresh Rescue partners collected 347,000 pounds of food that would have otherwise gone to waste. Today, forty Fresh Rescue partnerships exist throughout the state, and more than a million pounds of fresh food is being saved from the dumpster and shared with Vermonters who need it the most.
“Partnering with the state Agency of Natural Resources (ANR), the Vermont Foodbank is deeply involved in implementing Vermont’s universal recycling law (Act 148). The law’s first priority is to get edible food to people who need it safely and efficiently. We partner with ANR to educate everyone about the new law, teach our fellow Vermonters how to reduce food waste at home, and encourage the safe donation of edible food to the Foodbank and its community partners. If that’s not possible, we teach Vermonters how to compost, so those food scraps can enhance our soils and grow more local food,” said Sayles.
As noted, Hannaford Supermarkets was an early partner in the Fresh Food Rescue pilot and considers the commitment to hunger alleviation as a core part of its mission. Ben Theriault, Hannaford’s Director of Operations in Vermont, sums up his experience saying, “We have been working hard with the Vermont Foodbank and local pantries across the state to ensure that nutritious fruit, vegetables, and other fresh food is rescued regularly by our stores, so that it can be provided to Vermonters at risk of going hungry.”
Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and California are all working to reduce wasted food and help meet the EPA and US Department of Agriculture’s nationwide goal of a 50% reduction in food waste by 2030. The ultimate aim is to improve overall food security and conserve our nation’s natural resources.
Learn more about Vermont’s Universal Recycling law by visiting www.vtrecycles.com, and by following us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram @VTrecycles. To learn more about opportunities within your town or city visit www.802recycles.com to find out your local waste management entity.
To learn how to donate quality surplus food, visit www.vtfoodbank.com.