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Congressman Peter Welch meets with Vermont hunger councils

Cans of food at a food shelf
Pat Bradley
Cans of food at a food shelf

Vermont’s at-large Congressman met with statewide hunger council representatives this week to hear about needs across the state and provide an update on relief actions in Congress.

During the two years of the pandemic, Congressman Peter Welch has been meeting with the Hunger Councils of Vermont. Coordinated through Hunger Free Vermont, the 10 regional groups organize food and nutrition efforts locally and statewide.

The Democrat noted that the pandemic presented challenges for people seeking necessities and, as in many sectors, the pandemic revealed weaknesses in programs that help people with basic needs.

“What we’re seeing coming out of COVID are the economic impacts that have occurred: the breakdown in the supply chain, the increase in prices as a result of that and of course added to it now the horrible, horrible war in Ukraine which is aggravating prices. So the higher that price without the income going up the greater the need. This is a situation that all of you know that meeting the food needs of everybody in Vermont is something that never ends.”

The Southwestern Vermont Council on Aging serves Rutland and Bennington counties. Nutrition and Wellness Coordinator Madelyn Gardner explained a challenge they face with one of their largest nutrition programs: Meals on Wheels.

“Like many we’re experiencing lack of volunteers because of the rising gas prices, which is making it difficult to retain our Meals on Wheels volunteers, especially for our long routes in the rural parts of Vermont. They are volunteers and their routes are becoming longer and longer due to the lack of volunteers. And also our meal providers are facing challenges because of the rising food costs.”

Brattleboro Senior Meals gets a delivery of food every week. Just before she began speaking, Director Cynthia Fisher was handed the bill for that day’s shipment.

“It has gone up from a $1,300 average to this one that we just received: $2,700.”

Congressman Welch interjects, “That is shocking! It’s doubled.”

Fisher tells him, “We rely very heavily now on the COVID money that we get, and so that has helped enormously. We do our own fundraising, but again, in a small town like ours it’s difficult to get all the funding that we need. I’m just hoping that we continue to get the state and federal funds that we have gotten previously. I don’t see the need of our area residents decreasing. I only see that increasing.”

Foodworks is a food shelf in Brattleboro. Food Access Coordinator Simon Reed was curious if there was a possibility of extending the FEMA sponsored “Everyone Eats” program aimed at helping both restaurants and the food insecure during the pandemic.

“I was wondering if there is any sort of idea in Washington or in the Statehouse to continue the funding?”

Welch responds, “I’m totally in favor of continued funding for the Everybody Eats program because I know that the restaurants have had it as hard as anybody if not harder. The prospects in D.C. are tough now. Senator McConnell and the majority just doesn’t want to do any more relief basically. So I don’t know how it will work out but I’m seeing that the attitude has hardened about more funding for COVID aid.”

Congressman Welch and the Hunger Council representatives also discussed ways to eliminate stigma over accessing food programs.

Welch and Republican Christina Nolan are running for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by retiring Democrat Patrick Leahy.