Project Feed the Thousands kicks off annual food drive

Group hopes to match last year’s goal of $85,000 in cash and ingredients for 250,000 meals

BRATTLEBORO — Project Feed the Thousands, this region's largest community food drive, kicked off its 27th annual campaign against hunger in the community on Nov. 6, with local organizers acknowledging that this campaign will be different from any other because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In their effort to support nine area food shelves, the food drive seeks to raise $85,000 in cash, as well as to collect enough non-perishable food items for 250,000 meals.

“Hunger is an epidemic. And more often than not, it is hidden from the public eye,” Kelli Corbeil, owner of WTSA Radio and co-chair of Project Feed the Thousands, said in a news release.

“In years past, we have relied heavily on remote broadcasts and other special events to help get the word out about the importance of this annual event,” Corbeil said.

“It's going to be interesting,” observed Co-chair Jeff Morse, president of River Valley Credit Union.

“On the one hand, we are going to need to reduce our presence in the community,” Morse said. “On the other hand, the need has increased exponentially, with so many of our friends and neighbors facing increasingly difficult times.”

Project Feed the Thousands was first launched in 1994 by Larry Smith, then of WTSA Radio, and George Haynes, former president of Brattleboro Savings and Loan.

“When Project Feed the Thousands was first conceived of, we never imagined that our mission would be so incredibly necessary all these years later, and we certainly never envisioned the unique challenges that we are facing this year,” said Haynes.

“The number of people in need of help has grown every year, but this year that number has ballooned because of the virus. People who have never been in need before have found themselves thrust into an incredibly difficult situation,” he added.

Corbeil said that despite the proliferation of other initiatives to combat hunger, “the need is so incredibly great that it's going to take a variety of approaches to help alleviate the issue of hunger in our communities.”

Food collection bins will be placed at Market 32, Hannaford, the Brattleboro Food Co-op, River Bend Market, and the Putney Food Co-op. But unlike past campaigns, the food drive will limit other collection locations such as small stores and other businesses.

Similarly, cash collection boxes will be limited this year.

“We simply cannot risk the health and well-being of their employees and customers, or our volunteers,” Morse said.

Another change: students and staff at area schools will find it challenging to contribute to the effort, with most students only physically attending school one or two days a week.

“This year will have to be different,” Corbeil said. “We hope that school administrators can find some creative ways for their students to participate.”

Every dollar to food

Donations to Project Feed the Thousands, collected from now through the end of the year, help support Foodworks Food Shelf, St. Brigid's Kitchen, and Loaves & Fishes Community Kitchen, all in Brattleboro; Guilford Food Pantry; Bread of Life Food Pantry in Vernon; Hinsdale Food Pantry; Our Place Drop In Center in Bellows Falls; Putney Food Shelf; and Townshend Community Food Shelf.

With very few cash collection boxes this year, the effort will rely heavily on people mailing in their contributions.

According to Haynes, by tapping into the resource of the Vermont Foodbank, cash donations in the hands of the effort can purchase far more food for the money than individuals can.

“The food bank's extraordinary buying power enables us to maximize every dollar collected, and parlay it into even more food for those in our community in need,” Haynes said. “Every dollar donated will go toward helping purchase food to support our area food shelves, and to feed families in our communities.”

The project also seeks donations of non-perishable food items, or personal care products such as shampoo, diapers, and toothpaste that can't be purchased through the 3SquaresVT program (food stamps).

Even with the goal set at last year's level, “we know that it will be a challenge to reach that goal,” Morse said.

“With all the changes that we have faced this year, the issue of hunger has not changed, and in fact has become a new reality for many in our community,” he said. “Children, senior citizens, veterans, and working families with limited resources are having to cope with not having enough nutritious food to eat and the consequences of food insecurity.”

“Please do what you can,” Haynes concluded. Everything will go to our neighbors who are struggling to make ends meet.”

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