The caption accompanying the image of Friday’s Farmers to Families Food Box Program described the massive turnout of Vermont residents seeking to acquire healthy, nutritious food for their families, but only describes a small portion of the story. I call on The Times Argus to report on the actual concern — that Vermont’s promise of what would be provided through the Farmers to Families food program was entirely inconsistent with what was delivered.
Announcements advertising the Abbey Group program described distribution of the same items listed in the caption for Jeb Wallace-Brodeur’s photo – 10 pounds of grilled chicken, up to 25 pounds of mostly local fresh produce, two gallons of milk and more than 7 pounds of Cabot dairy products, along with FEMA meals-ready-to-eat (MRE). As cars waited for eight to 10 hours on the runways to receive this nutritious local food for their needy families, signs reiterated the items that would be offered to each household.
Perhaps the first few dozen cars received these items in the initial hour of distribution, but the majority of hungry residents received nothing that was promised in announcements or the onsite signs. Most cars drove home with boxes of “snack packs” consisting of small packages of roasted peanuts, 8 oz. servings of apple juice in plastic containers with foil lids, aseptic 8 oz. containers of Hershey’s chocolate milk, plastic containers of Ritz crackers with spreadable cheese, individually wrapped Tootsie Rolls, packets of grape jelly, mustard and mayonnaise, and multiple flavors of Pop-Tarts — assorted individual sets described as breakfast, lunch or dinner, from the Sacramento Sandwich Shop, each wrapped in plastic. Some lucky cars also received cases of traditional MREs – yet, still no fresh produce, dairy or meat to bring home to their families.
No bathrooms were available at the distribution until well after 2 p.m., the official “closing time” of the event, which left elderly residents or those with children no choice after hours of waiting but to lose their place in line or risk their health to remain in the queue. No staff or volunteers were on hand to communicate throughout the day, so families were never advised the fresh items had run out. After spending an entire day in an idling vehicle, using precious fuel and emitting exhaust fumes into the atmosphere, not a single car was informed their long wait would be rewarded with merely junk food.
Vermonters with the greatest need made sacrifices on Friday to take advantage of this government-funded program at Knapp Airport. They juggled work and child care to sit in line for up to 12 hours with the promise of receiving nutritious food for their families, only to be handed unhealthy snack food bundled up in wasteful packaging. The families, with the least time and energy to spare, devoted an entire day to take home healthy food for their families, only to drive away with boxes of overpackaged high-fructose corn syrup and genetically modified soybean oil.
The state could have saved these families time and headache, and avoided a potential public and mental health disaster, with better planning and communication. Considering the millions of federal dollars that subsidized the event, better planning and basic communication should have been a given. The intention of the program was valiant, but the execution chaotic and downright demoralizing. Vermont can do better.
Emily Ruff is a Town of Orange Select Board member.