Folding tables were piled high with boxes of food in the side hallway of the Shelburne Community School gymnasium on a rainy Thursday afternoon last week. Stacks of soup cans and pyramids of peanut butter jars covered one tabletop, while two long low coolers were filled with eggs and yogurt cups. Round green cantaloupes balanced on one another like basketballs at the end of the row.
Volunteers were busy unpacking boxes and greeting the families who came through the door, kids in tow, carrying and filling green reusable shopping bags.
Last Thursday was the second ever food distribution day for the Shelburne Food Shelf’s new “Food That’s In When School Is Out” program in partnership with SCS and local food vendors. The program provided food staples to help feed breakfast and lunch during the summer to kids from low-income families who usually rely on free meals at school during the school year.
“It’s extremely important for kids to be well-nourished, for their brains to grow and develop,” said volunteer Nancy Baker. “The first two years of life are when the brain has the most rapid development, and the first 7 years are extremely important. So nutrition is really a key to not only school success but future success and quality of life as well.”
Families signed up for the program at school before summer vacation began. “We figured the best way to reach people is to have their teachers reach them,” Allen said. “We are excited to have a new venue that we can use for reaching out to more families we haven’t served through the food shelf before.”
Food distribution occurs every Thursday afternoon from 4-6 p.m. On good-weather days they set up in the school’s breezeway; on rainy days in the gym hallway.
The distribution site features a rotating menu of food staples, with certain items such as bread and juice offered every week. Canned fruit, boxes of oatmeal, granola bars, roast turkey and hot dogs are also available, on a rotating basis. Shoppers can also pick up milk vouchers at the site to be redeemed for cold cartons at the Shelburne Supermarket. The menu also accommodates families who don’t eat certain meats, or who have nut allergies.
Christine Allen and Susan Stock are two Shelburne Food Shelf board members and program organizers. On Thursday, Allen was busy bustling around the food tables, unloading food boxes and helping shoppers to pick out food to fill their bags. “The mandarin oranges are very popular with the kids,” Allen said. “And the cans of soup are always great for a lunch.”
Allen noted that in Shelburne, like many places in America, the poverty is all but invisible. In fact, the Town of Shelburne is widely perceived to be among the more affluent communities in Vermont, a perception that is supported by census data that reported the median household income to be just over $100,000 per year in 2015 – well above the statewide average of $55,000.
Even so, the same data reveals that 4.3 percent of Shelburne families are living below the federal poverty line of $24,600 a year, and when Shelburne’s high cost of living (including housing costs) are taken into account, it is not altogether surprising that some Shelburne families struggle to afford the basics, like nutritious food. This is why the Food Shelf is here to help.
“Just today, I had someone say to me, ‘oh, you have something like that in Shelburne? Why?’” Allen recalled. “We’re dispelling the myth that people in Shelburne don’t need help.”
So far Stock said the program has about 40 families with approximately 80 children combined signed up. Shoppers have been expressing their appreciation both in person and even on social media. “I think people are generally really happy that this program is here, because it never existed before,” Stock said. “There was never any way to do this in Shelburne.”
Stock says the biggest challenge so far is predicting how much food to order each week. Food shelf donations are used to purchase food at any of several local partner vendors including Reinhart Foodservice, Vermont Bread Company, and Hannaford Supermarket. The Vermont Food Bank helps with food delivery, and the Shelburne Supermarket stores food until it is transported to the distribution site.
“It really takes a village,” Allen said.