BRATTLEBORO—Last week, the statewide Everyone Eats! program celebrated an important milestone by serving its one millionth meal.
The program, which has provided meals prepared by local restaurants to Vermonters experiencing any of the negative effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, started in Brattleboro last summer.
It soon grew into a statewide initiative, thanks to an allocation of $5 million of the state’s Coronavirus Relief Fund by the Vermont Agency of Commerce and Community Development to Southeastern Vermont Community Action (SEVCA), which served as financial agent for the expanded program.
Everyone Eats! would have ended in December, but widespread community support and advocacy prompted the state to secure additional funding through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to extend the program through the current state of emergency in Vermont.
All 14 of the state’s counties participated in the program.
The Brattleboro hub has served 150,000 of those one million meals from the C.F. Church Building parking lot on Flat Street. Up to 700 meals have been distributed four nights a week.
In addition to the federal dollars, the program in Brattleboro raised more than $10,000, which has allowed for supplemental programs like the annual Community Thanksgiving Meal — which last year was a drive-up affair due to the pandemic — and the purchase of breakfast sandwiches over the past few weeks to support residents at the Quality Inn who have been in quarantine after a COVID-19 outbreak there.
“We have all looked at the world with different perspectives this year and felt new feelings. The urgency of the Covid moment moved us to swift action in innovative ways,” Stephanie Bonin, executive director of DBA and the Brattleboro hub for Everyone Eats, said in a news release.
Bonin said that what seemed impossible, “like spending $10 a meal to feed people, became possible. What seemed like an insurmountable hurdle, asking for basically no proof of need, was accomplished. What had never been done before, one program supporting all — restaurants, farmers, mental health, community, and people needing to eat — has now been achieved in a big way.”
She said that she hopes, and is working to ensure, “that the gems of Everyone Eats! will last in perpetuity — nourishing our community through feeding people, supporting local restaurants and their workers, and purchasing from local farms.”
To make Everyone Eats! succeed here required the work of a core of 66 organizers and volunteers, plus many community partners like Dummerston Cares, Loaves & Fishes, and the Boys & Girls Club of Brattleboro.
Jean Hamilton, statewide coordinator for Everyone Eats!, also acknowledged the important role of community-level energy and support.
“Vermont is well-known for its community organizations, and thank goodness for them,” she said. “In less than nine months, our program was launched from a concept to this moment, 1 million local meals delivered to neighbors all across our state.”
“We were able to do this because of the community organizations that stepped up and got right to work,” Hamilton continued. “They are the backbone of our community resilience.”
Statewide, more than 200 Vermont restaurants have contributed to the one million meals, which have contained nearly $1 million of Vermont ingredients.
Several area restaurants have participated in Everyone Eats! from its inception.
“It is one of the most brilliant community and revenue-building programs I have heard of,” said Erin Sprandel of Echo Restaurant & Lounge. “I’m honored to be a part of this.”