Local food shelves are expecting to be busy again now that the $300 supplement in federal jobless benefits has expired.
John Sayles, CEO of the Vermont Foodbank, said food distribution has almost doubled during the COVID-19 pandemic and the foodbank is committed to continuing to meet the need.
“Food insecurity is financial insecurity,” Sayles said. “I am concerned about the loss of the unemployment benefits. That it is going to be really challenging for some folks out there.”
Three related programs recently expired — Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation and Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation. The unemployment program provided an additional $300 per week to those out of a job during the pandemic.
Sayles said he has seen a lot of working families reaching out.
“Forty percent of the new folks that come to get food help in the last two years have never looked for help before,” Sayles said. “I guess if there was one group that most uses charitable food, it’s families mostly headed by single moms.”
Farryl Bertmann is the program director of the Masters of Dietetics Program at the University of Vermont.
“Seeing groups of BIPOC populations that not only had a higher level of food insecurity but the recovery rate was lower than white Vermonters,” Bertmann said.
Jaime Bedard, executive director of Just Basics, is the umbrella organization for the Montpellier Food Pantry. said they see an average of 50 to 80 people a day. She’s not worried about having enough food to meet the demand, but workers are more scarce.
“I am worried about having enough staff and volunteers because we are still doing curbside and that takes a lot more people power,” Bedard said.