As more rural Vermonters struggle with food insecurity, the Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity has launched an initiative to provide better access to local food shelves, including through a new online ordering system.

Paul Dragon, the Executive Director of the CVOEO, said the Food Access Network operates under Feeding Chittenden and aims to offer healthy, culturally responsive food.

“What we’re trying to do is innovate what is a traditional charitable food system, where people will come into a food shelf, pick up free packaged food,” Dragon said. “This is saying, ‘Hey, no matter where you are at, we are going to get food out to where you are, and you are going to get choice in the food you want.’”

Rob Meehan, the director of Feeding Chittenden, says one challenge is making more diverse food avaipable at local food pantries.

“Traditionally, charitable food has a hard time diversifying what it has,” he said. “So you rely on government commodities that come from USDA —oftentimes that’s peanut butter, tuna fish, macaroni and cheese, things like that. What do people actually want? Some of it’s cultural, so we’ve really tried to improve on culturally relevant food.”

Meehan said nearly 50 percent of people who are eligible for charitable food either can’t get it because of location or don’t accept it because of the stigma.

Dragon says the program is working to break the stigma of accepting food donations and Feeding Chittenden reports there are more than 20,000 individuals in Chittenden County who experienced food insecurity.