VNG at Airport, 5-28-2020

Members of the Vermont National Guard distribute boxes of Abbey Group-supplied food at an emergency meals site in Highgate.

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Sheldon-based Abbey Group will continue to provide food for two more months to Vermonters in need as part of the Farmers to Families program.

USDA’s decision to extend the grant funding the food donations was announced Wednesday by Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.; Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.; and Rep. Peter Welch, D — Vt.

Willing Hands, a Vermont-based organization providing assistance in the Upper Valley, will also continue its efforts through the end of August.

These two contracts will bring an additional $8.5 million in nutrition assistance to Vermont and to the Upper Valley community in New Hampshire, most of which will go toward buying produce and dairy from local farms.

The goal of the program is to support both farmers and families by getting locally grown foods into the hands of those in need, with the hope the program would be able to ease some of the added demand placed on Vermont’s food shelves amid the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting economic fallout.

In Vermont, the National Guard and Vermont Foodbank have handled the distribution of boxes sourced and assembled by the Abbey Group, distributing the food at emergency food sites around the state.

In a joint statement, Leahy, Sanders and Welch said: “We offer our heartfelt congratulations and thanks to the Abbey Group and Willing Hands who both secured extended contracts from the USDA to administer the Farmers to Families Food Box program throughout the summer. The coronavirus pandemic has starkly highlighted inequities in our society nationwide. Here in Vermont, we have seen miles of cars lined up so that families and individuals can get the food they need to make it through the week.

“Through the hard work and dedication of the Abbey Group, Willing Hands, the State of Vermont, the Vermont Foodbank and countless other partners and farmers around the state, Vermonters will be able to continue to have access to fresh local produce through the coming months.”

Demand on Vermont’s food shelves has soared in the wake of COVID-19 and resulting gubernatorial orders to close most public spaces and businesses to contain COVID-19’s spread.

A University of Vermont survey recently suggested that food insecurity — the lack of consistent access to nutritious food — could have skyrocketed by as much as a third amid the pandemic.

Emergency food distribution sites maintained by the Vermont National Guard and Vermont Foodbank in response to growing food insecurity concerns have seen miles-long lines and demand for food supports continue to surge even as Vermont’s economy gradually reopens.

In their statement Wednesday, Vermont’s Congressional delegation said they’d continue pressing for additional food supports and asked those in need to reach out to state services like 3SquaresVT for support.

“We know that hunger will extend beyond the summer, and we will continue to fight for federal assistance for nutrition programs in our state and nationwide,” they wrote. “Ultimately, we need to expand the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (3SquaresVT) to address the skyrocketing rates of hunger in the face of COVID-19.”

“If Vermonters or their families are having trouble putting food on the table, they can call 2-1-1 to see if they qualify for 3SquaresVT,” they added in their joint statement.

The Abbey Group will distribute 266,000 boxes to Vermont families through August. The boxes will contain dairy products from HP Hood Dairy, Monument Farms Dairy, Thomas Dairy, Cabot, Shelburne Farms and Kingdom Creamery. They will also contain 440,000 pounds of local produce from Reinhart Food Service, Black River Produce, Green Mountain Farm to School, Healthy Roots Collaborative, the Center for Agricultural Economy, Deep Root Organics and others.

Details on how to sign up to receive food boxes can be found on the Vermont Department of Emergency Management’s website.

Willing Hands will distribute food boxes through food shelves throughout the Upper Valley.

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