Joe, sitting in his car looking at the camera. Joe has been speaking out about the 3SquaresVt program to support his neighbors.

On the first day of the new year, Joe got a notebook and wrote Positive Thoughts at the top; then he added his first entry, January 1st: Thankful to be here. “Every day, I go in and I write a positive thought,” explains Joe. “I wrote one this morning. I’m gonna do that for a whole year. And then when I get to next January, I’m gonna go back and reflect on that.”

Joe is 60 years old and lives in Barre Town with his dog Ace and his cat Bud Bud. He started driving trucks when he was 15, to help his mom pay the mortgage, and worked as a truck driver for 45 years—up until a medical emergency pushed him to retire last year. He spent four and a half days in a coma and two weeks in the hospital.

“That made me wake right up,” shares Joe. “I’ve taken every day for granted. But you know, it’s one day at a time…So I’m taking better care of myself now. I’m eating better, I go for walks, I’ve done a whole program of [physical therapy].”

Since Joe got home from the hospital, and can’t drive trucks anymore, money has been tight.

“I had three weeks left of physical therapy and I couldn’t afford to go,” says Joe. “I have a policy with my disability, everything gets paid first, you know. I make sure the animals have their food, and whatever’s left over is mine to do whatever I want. But you gotta figure whatever I want has gotta be gas in the car, dinner, whatever. There’s usually only $200 left at the end of the month.” Driving to his appointments would wipe out that $200. The Salvation Army helped pay for gas so Joe could finish physical therapy.

One day, Joe was talking to his physical therapists and told them he sometimes skips meals. They connected him with Vermont Foodbank’s free produce distributions, that you make possible, and 3SquaresVT (sometimes called SNAP or “food stamps”), a program that helps people buy groceries. 

“Sometimes I don’t eat. I make sure my pets have food before I do,” Joe told his physical therapists. He laughs, “That was like opening a whole can of worms right there. And I thank them for that. Because they went and got me a bag of food, like you guys give, and I cried. You know, that was hard for me. I’m the type of guy that don’t want to accept help. But now I’m in a position where I need to.”

When Joe first visited a Foodbank free produce event, he says he was overwhelmed by the number of cars that were there. He picked up some fresh veggies and a recipe. “I went home and tried that,” says Joe. “It was a carrot soup. Oh my god that was awesome, I’ve made that a couple of times.”

He also likes to cook chicken, spaghetti with Alfredo sauce, and potato cakes with an egg cooked in the center. Joe visits his local food shelf and uses his 3SquaresVT benefits to get the foods he can’t get at the produce distribution—essentials like milk and butter. Support from community members like you is what keeps Foodbank produce events running, food shelves stocked, and application assistance for 3SquaresVT available for neighbors statewide.

Besides cooking, Joe enjoys NASCAR, fishing, writing poems, and bringing his mom to her hairdresser appointments. And a new hobby: Using his voice to support food access programs and the people who use them.

Joe has an issue of the Times Argus that he keeps by his chair every day. On the front page is an article about the federal government cutting SNAP benefits this March.

“I’ve read this thing over and over again,” says Joe. “At first I was angry…We’re already struggling as individuals. Why do we go there in the first place? Because that program was for us. That program was for people with disabilities, seniors, families with kids, that can’t afford to eat or put food on the table, and they can’t afford to put gas in their car, can’t afford to get a job, and they can’t afford daycare, but yet you’re gonna take something that is really, really important to us, you want to take that away from us?”

“And as I kept reading, I kept getting angrier…I’m talking to myself. You don’t care about this stuff Joe; you didn’t care about this stuff before. Well, now I do. And now I see how it really affects everybody else. And I don’t wanna be the sideline anymore. I want to be a voice for people that need it.”

“This whole thing has been a whole new experience,” explains Joe. “It wakes you. It wasn’t that I wasn’t awake to the situation, but it really woke me up to the situation. And I became humble. Because nobody’s above anybody else.”

“I had a good job; I always had a good job. I was married 150 times. Oh no, just kidding, twice,” Joe laughs. “But we always had food. We always made sure the kids had food, the bills were paid, we always had a nice home or whatever…But coming here now, realizing that all these services are here is amazing. I never really knew…”

“I owe a whole gratitude of thank-yous. And you guys are one of ‘em. Because this here makes me realize that there is help out there for people that need it, and don’t be afraid to go ask.”

  • 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.

  • This month, we're celebrating you and those who've offered the Gift of Support and in so doing have joined us on the journey of creating a food-secure Vermont by sharing part of a recent interview with friend and neighbor Sara.