County needs ‘wider kind of focus’ on hunger, agency says

Putney Foodshelf seeks $1,000 from town to study issue

PUTNEY — The time is right to get a better handle on who in the community struggles with food insecurity and marginal housing, and the Putney Foodshelf is looking to the Selectboard for guidance - and $1,000 or so - to lock down some answers.

That was the message Leigh Brady, Putney Foodshelf board member, brought to the Selectboard last month.

Brady called for “a wider kind of focus” on the issue of hunger in Windham County - and Putney particularly.

“I'm just looking at how we can identify and provide some options for folks who don't have ... are currently slipping through the cracks. And the other thing is to provide data to us when grants are available,” she said.

Brady said Putney's most vulnerable cover a range of demographics. She listed “men; women; families; single mothers; those over 60; veterans; teens; Putney Central School-age kids; toddlers; folks living in tents, cars, and cabins; some have electricity; some have some forms of heat.”

“What can, should, or might we do to understand the situation, and maybe look at helping out but also getting ahead of what it might snowball into? What larger things get pulled in?” she asked rhetorically.

She suggested Putney and the Foodshelf could come up with a combined $2,000 for a number of graduate students to do legwork on the project.

The Putney Foodshelf began in 2006 as a local, grassroots response to a growing awareness that many of our neighbors were hungry.

The Foodshelf says on its website that it's grown from providing supplemental food for a handful of families to regularly serving more than 35 families weekly. Its mission: “To provide supplemental healthy food for area people in need.”

Hunger is a complex problem, Brady suggested, and many in need of aid either seek help outside the community over a sense of embarrassment, or go without needed aid over a lack of transportation or due to other reasons.

Hunger, she said, touches many who now are receiving aid and she suggested the town could help close those gaps in knowledge and services, and make lasting, practical change.

Brady said the Foodshelf was exploring hiring a couple of people for a month “to really focus on identifying grants; who knows how to reach these people; what could we do?”

At the least, she said, the information could be used to connect those in need with a shower, a hot meal, and a laundry facility: “That would really help these people.”

She said the Foodshelf was interviewing students from SIT Graduate Institute and World Learning to see if they were up to the task of initial research.

“Do we want to engage with this for a month, lay some groundwork, let them do some investigation, and come back to us? Is there someone better suited in Putney to do that? We could put $1,000 down, the town might put $1,000 down. Would that give us any benefit?” she said.

Brady told the Selectboard she would want to talk to similar towns to see how they handle the problems of hunger and marginal housing, and would want to speak with family service agencies and look into grants, but not reinvent the wheel.

She said students brought in would “absolutely not” speak with affected individuals, many of whom likely already are in contact with providers they know and trust.

“We can pull in organizations that can help. We just want to pull it all together,” she said.

Board Chair Josh Laughlin seemed to agree with the project in principle, and was quick to speculate about sources of funding.

“I've been approached by a couple of people recently with these issues, but also [in the context that] there are some behaviors in town we want to kind of keep an eye on,” he said. “By no means do I want to draw a relationship between these two, but there's probably overlap between the two: between crime issues, drug issues, and for some of the homeless crowd, there's probably overlap there.”

Laughlin referred to members of the town's Public Safety Committee, and wondered whether leveraging public safety grants might meet the Foodshelf's needs.

The Selectboard took no official action, and said it looked forward to hearing back from Brady with a more concrete proposal, which she said would be forthcoming.

The Putney Foodshelf says keeping its shelves filled takes a dozen volunteers about 15 hours a week with 400 pounds of food that is both donated and purchased through membership fees at the Vermont Foodbank.

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