In Brandon, Neighbors Volunteer to Keep One Another Strong

Throughout a time of uncertainty and increased need, community members like you are working together to make sure we all have the food we need to take care of ourselves and our loved ones.

“When the pandemic began, I literally thought it would be controlled within a month,” says Colleen, who coordinates the Brandon Area Toy Project. “As this went on … families in the Toy Project started communicating with us about running low on food and accessibility. Because it was summer, many of us had gardens and were able to grow an extra row and share. This was great until summer wound down. And I had people who work full time talking about not being able to afford groceries.”

When it became apparent that the coronavirus wasn’t going to be quickly controlled, the Toy Project pulled together with other Brandon groups to find new and different ways to serve the people of the five town community.

“The Toy Project has been around Brandon forever,” says Colleen. “It used to just give toys to kids at Christmas and that was it … and we just have changed because needs have changed and now we do more.”

Besides distributing over 3,000 homemade masks last March and helping older neighbors get registered for vaccines, Brandon-area volunteers have been making sure that neighbors have enough to eat throughout the pandemic.

“The families who are in the Toy Project are low income. When you have maybe one income, and that income is not coming in anymore, it’s a crisis,” says Colleen. Volunteers started going to food distributions, that you help support, to pick up food for their neighbors.

“I would show up at the Farmers to Families [food distribution] with my registrations and I’d drive off with 30 boxes and I’d deliver them,” says Colleen. “We’ve gotten a lot of people who go to VeggieVanGo [a free, fresh food event] now … when that happens. And so instead of just picking up for their family, they’ll pick up for like five families and go distribute that.”

The Brandon community has so many volunteers that Colleen says she has to schedule them, otherwise too many people will show up. “Which is a great problem to have.”

“A lot of the volunteers are parents who used to be receiving toys, receiving coats, and now they’re at the point in their lives where they can help give out meals and help do things for people,” explains Colleen. “That makes them feel good, you know?”

During a typical holiday season at the Toy Project, parents choose toys to give to their kids — the most popular are arts and crafts supplies and Legos. But this past year, the Toy Project wanted to make sure families had food as well.

“We worked with Melissa [a Foodbank program coordinator] and we were able to get boxes of food for each of our Toy Project families at Christmas. And honestly, I don’t know if the parents were as excited about the toys as they were about the food. Because the box happened to have strawberries in it — fresh strawberries.” shares Colleen.

During this time of heightened need, Colleen says that the collaboration within the community has been key. “With everybody working together, we’re able to do this,” she says. “But if we worked apart we couldn’t do any of it.”

This is a sentiment the Foodbank has heard again and again during the pandemic: Vermont is strongest when we’re standing together.

“This is difficult for people. It’s so much easier to give than it is to accept,” says Colleen. “And it’s like, sometimes you have to accept it.”

“I never thought I’d be waiting in lines to get free food to feed Americans, but here we are. I also never thought that a small Rec Dept. would be using our connections to develop a distribution system instead of soccer teams, but whatever works … works. So grateful for the Vermont Foodbank … for getting food directly to the people who need it — now!”

Thank you for making sure food is available for anyone who needs it. For standing with your community through this health crisis. For all you have done to care for those around you. It’s been more than a year, and you’re still here.

Support neighbors during this difficult time, if you can. Give help.

Are you in need of help? We’re here. Get help. 

Help get food to neighbors who need it. Volunteer. 

Read More Stories

  • After 36 years working as a counselor at a community college, Peter retired to Vermont and started volunteering at the Foodbank. More than nine years and 1,000 shifts later, Peter shares why he keeps showing up.

  • Matthew works at Foodworks food shelf, one of the 353 community organizations that partners with Vermont Foodbank working towards a food-secure vermont.

  • Elysia lives in St. Johnsbury and is a community consultant for Vermont Foodbank. She brings her expertise to help improve services and increase access to food for folks in her community.