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Community Health Connects with Vermont Food Programs

This article appeared on VT Digger in September, 2022:

“We are on a mission,” said Jill Jesso-White, Community Health’s Director of Communications, “a mission to dispel rumors about food insecurity, healthy eating habits and nutrition. We have joined forces with Vermont Farmers Food CenterThe Vermont FoodbankHunger Free Vermont and 3SquaresVT to reach out and engage with those who are unaware of or hesitate taking advantage of resources that are available in the community. The resources are not only available to those who are identified as being at risk medically.”

Why aren’t families and individuals taking advantage of the programs that provide groceries, free meals, transportation and other resources to people in Rutland County, and around the state?  Jesso-White said a collaborative effort between community, government and health care organizations is aimed at helping to reduce the stigma of the community-wide programs which often carry the negative connotation of being entitlements.

Katy Davis, Community Health Initiatives Director at Hunger Free Vermont, hears a lot of rumors and misinformation about food programs especially from older Vermonters who could take advantage of programs that would help them live safer, healthier lives. Comments like…..

“I would be taking benefits away from somebody else,”  or
“Sure, it could be better, or it could be worse,” or
“I don’t deserve these benefits.”

Davis created a ”myth busters” series as a way to dispel the bad information, especially for those who think they don’t deserve the assistance, even if they really do need it. 

Myth:  Other people need it more than me.
Busted:  There is no limit to how many people can be eligible to receive food benefits.

Myth:  I don’t want people to know I need help.
Busted: 3SquaresVT and other programs are confidential.

Myth: I’d rather go to the food shelf.
Busted: You can shop locally or where is convenient and get the food you know your family will eat.

Myth: It’s too hard to apply.
The new application process puts you in touch with a person by phone.

Myth: 3SquaresVT/SNAP costs our country too much money.
Busted: False. These programs actually stimulate local economies.

During the pandemic, making sure everyone had access to food was challenging. Food was unavailable or difficult to get for a variety of reasons, from dwindling supplies to lack of transportation to lockdown restrictions. More Vermonters became food insecure. Organizations like Rutland’s Vermont Farmers Food Center bolstered their food distribution through The Farmacy Project and Everyone Eats to provide free produce and prepared meals.

The Farmacy is just one of the Food Center programs where every week for 12 weeks through the summer farmers like Laura Burch of SVT Farm in Wells, Tanya Tolchin from Otter Point Farm in West Haven and Ryan Yoder of Yoder Farm in Danby pack up 225 individual portions of their weekly harvest and deliver their farm grown produce to the Food Center in Rutland where  volunteers package parcels of 10-12 pounds of fresh produce for each member. Those enrolled in the Farmacy program are supplied with free, nutritious, locally grown fruit, vegetables and herbs to cook and savor.

Community Health providers refer patients to the Farmacy “food is medicine” program which “links the underserved in Rutland County to the rich, robust healthy world of good food, community programming and education.”

Eileen Henry picks up her weekly Farmacy share from Emma Hileman, Farmacy Project Director.

Everyone Eats, a food relief and economic development program, distributes free ready-made meals to-go prepared by restaurants that use produce and ingredients from local producers. This program has been funded through 2023.

Vermont Foodbank and Hunger Free Vermont put food on the table for thousands of Vermonters each month. But many more are individuals are eligible and are not accessing the program. ”Folks appreciate learning that if they enroll in 3SquaresVT, there are other resources for other benefits,” said Jamie Lombardo, Associate Manager of 3SVT Community Engagement for the Vermont Foodbank. Other benefits include school lunch programs, job training, reduced transportation and energy services. And seniors receiving Supplemental Security Income (SSI), will have the benefits deposited as cash into their bank account.

“The VT Food Access and Health Care consortium is looking at ways to deepen health care and community food access partnerships across Vermont, building from experiences in communities like Rutland,” said Helen Labun, Special Projects Manager, Food Access at Bi-State Primary Care Association. An example of a statewide collaboration, Luban said, “is Vermont Farmers Food Center which is the convenor of the statewide CSA and Health Care Community of Practice through Farm to Plate ( programs.”

Multiple resources are available across the state to ensure that the programs are easy to access.

Ask your Community Health provider or care manager for more information about what’s available to you and your family throughout the year.

Vermont Food Help is a project of Hunger Free Vermont. 3SquaresVT is a federal USDA program administered in Vermont by the Department for Children and Families, Economic Services Division. 3SquaresVT is for everyone who qualifies, including individuals, families, seniors, students and people with disabilities.

Community Health is Vermont’s largest Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC), a network of primary care, pediatric, behavioral health, dental and pharmacy services with offices in Rutland, Brandon, Castleton, West Pawlet and Shoreham. Community Dental offices are located in Rutland and Shoreham; Community Kids Dental is in Rutland; Community Health Pediatrics is in Rutland and Behavioral Health services are available at all of our locations. Community Health Express Care Centers, open 7 days a week, are located at the Rutland and Castleton Community Health Centers. For more information about Community Health, check our website

3SquaresVT helps you buy the food you need and love. Watch this video then click here for more information.

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