Fighting Food Insecurity in Vermont and New Hampshire: A Community Effort
With many pandemic-related food relief programs ending—including increased SNAP benefits and free school lunches—as well as rising inflation and food costs, the risk of food insecurity for residents across our region is ever-growing. Across Vermont and New Hampshire, 1 in 11 and 1 in 14 people currently face food insecurity, respectively, with numbers expected to climb even farther in the coming months.
Food insecurity, defined by the Department of Health and Human Services as the “household-level economic and social condition of limited or uncertain access to adequate food,” isn’t just about hunger. Food insecurity can have major impacts on health, education, learning, and even the economic stability of our region. It’s also something that we can all work on together to eliminate. For this post, we wanted to take the time to talk about this common issue that’s dear to our hearts, and ways in which we work with local organizations (and you can, too!) to combat it and increase access to quality, healthy food.
Local Causes of Food Insecurity in New Hampshire and Vermont
Causes of food insecurity in Vermont and New Hampshire both follow national trends, while also having some underlying origins unique to our New England region. These causes are often interconnected, making it harder to address them individually. Some local issues affecting food security include:
- Gaps in Assistance: Public assistance often doesn’t cover all food-related needs, especially in our region. As you can see on this map from the Urban Institute, the gap between benefits received and the actual cost of a meal varies from 10-50% in all counties in New Hampshire and Vermont. In other words, our region’s high cost of living (about 16% higher than the national average) reduces the impact of these benefits for qualifying families.
- Lack of Access to Food: The lack of public transit can, as the New Hampshire Fiscal Policy Institute points out, “disproportionately impact certain populations,” including low-income families. Without public transit, residents living in areas without easy-access to healthy food are dependent on private vehicles—an extra burden for low-income families. In almost every county in New Hampshire there are regions that are both low income and low access, with large swathes of the state—particularly in Northwest New Hampshire—where lack of access to a vehicle poses significant challenges. In Vermont, over 30,000 residents live in food deserts.
- Health Issues and Disabilities: Nearly 20% of households with a member who was not in the labor force due to disability had very low food security. Additionally, many older adults living on a fixed income, often limited to social security benefits, may have difficulty accessing healthy foods due to health and mobility issues, as well as lack of transportation. Nearly 10% of adults over age 60 in Vermont are considered “marginally food insecure.”
Union Bank’s Contributions to Combating Food Insecurity
At Union Bank, we recognize that food insecurity exists in and affects every community, and we make it a priority to work one-on-one with many area organizations in an effort to reduce the impact of food insecurity and increase our residents’ access to fresh, healthy food. Here are just a few of the non-profit organizations fighting food insecurity we work with in our region:
Lamoille Community Food Share
Lamoille Community Food Share is a non-profit volunteer group dedicated to ensuring food security for everyone in and around Lamoille County, Vermont. Located at 197 Harrel Street in Morrisville, the Food Share pantry is the perfect place for families facing food insecurity to get the help they need. Visitors to the pantry can also pick up food for friends and neighbors who are unable to visit on their own.
On average, their pantry sees around 800 visits and distributes upwards of 36,000 pounds of food each month. While visits decreased during the pandemic, the pantry is continuing to see an increase of visits every week, currently at about 84% of pre-pandemic level. As Lamoille Community Food Share writes, “Though the need remains great, we strive to remain dedicated to our mission of feeding our neighbors in need. We are so thankful for the continued support of our community, including partners such as Union Bank.”
The mission of Salvation Farms is to bridge the gap between Vermont’s abundant agricultural surplus and those who need it most: the young, elderly, sick, incarcerated, and those facing food insecurity. Salvation Farms believes in leading by example, and works tirelessly to improve the food system and make Vermont a national leader in the effort. Their motto: “Don’t let edible food go to waste!”
Salvation Farms serves upwards of 10,000 to 12,000 individuals through providing locally-grown surplus food to more than 50 different community-based food access programs in Northeast Vermont. In 2022, Salvation Farms distributed more than 82,000 pounds (nearly 250,000 servings) of locally-grown surplus crops and gathered from local farms and distributed 3,700 plant starts, 1,370 pounds of cheese, 37 loaves of bread, and 1,290 dozen eggs. Salvation Farms collection of surplus food from local farms during 2022 was supported by 183 volunteers who contributed a combined 746 hours. Salvation Farms also makes lightly processed, frozen food from locally-grown surplus crops extending the shelf-life and increasing accessibility to our region’s agricultural abundance.
With the help of Salvation Farms, Vermont’s agricultural surplus can overcome barriers such as supply chain issues, lack of infrastructure, labor challenges, and market economics to reach those in need. As they write, “Salvation Farms greatly appreciates the years of support we’ve received from the Union Bank and consider [Union Bank] a vital community partner.”
Meals on Wheels and Lamoille Elders Networking Services
Lamoille Elders Networking Services (LENS) started its journey in 1991 with the help of a 3-year federal grant through Project Care. In 1993, it became a private non-profit organization with a mission to develop and fund new services for elders and connect them with community volunteers. Thanks to various grants, donations, and support, LENS has been able to upgrade its kitchen space and appliances, including the replacement of chest freezers with a walk-in cooler and freezer. Today, LENS serves over 40,000 meals annually and continues to be a vital organization for Lamoille’s elders.
LENS delivers, on average, 190 meals per day, five days per week, in all of Lamoille County, providing frozen meals for the weekends. LENS has over 60 active volunteers with 45 volunteer drivers delivering meals each week. Recipients of Meals on Wheels of Lamoille County rely on them for more than just a meal. Meals on Wheels visits are wellness checks, provide pet food and food share bags, and grant recipients a connection with other community services. As LENS writes, “Union Bank has been a valuable community partner for more than 20 years!”
For community members who are interested in volunteering, know that volunteers are needed now more than ever. To become a volunteer, deliver meals, help at their meal site, or become a board member contact Nicole for more information: [email protected] or 802-888-5011 ext.1.
Join in the Fight against Food Insecurity
Universal access to fresh, healthy food is essential to the wellbeing of our communities in Vermont and New Hampshire. As many pandemic-era relief programs are coming to an end, it’s more important than ever to support area organizations who have been critical in protecting our residents from the worst outcomes of food insecurity.
At Union Bank, we’ve been a part of your community since 1891, partnering with dozens of charitable organizations in Lamoille County, Caledonia County, Franklin County, Washington County, Chittenden County, and throughout Northern New Hampshire. We know that being a community bank means more than simply providing financial services—it means doing our part to support and uplift the communities we serve.
Stop by one of our 19 branches to learn more about how you can help fight food insecurity in our communities.