Arthur White, a maintenance technician at Central Vermont Medical Center in Berlin, and his wife had a free dinner Thursday night — pulled pork and Sugar Shack mac and cheese from the Cornerstone Pub and Kitchen in Barre.
The free meal was courtesy of Vermont Everyone Eats, a statewide program run by Southeastern Vermont Community Action that pays restaurants to prepare about 30,000 meals per week for families affected by the pandemic.
“You go home and you only have a limited amount of time to get something done today, and this speeds it up,” White said. “I don’t have to spend an hour cooking dinner. I can have a quick bite to eat and get a little bit more done.”
Vermont Everyone Eats received $5 million in coronavirus relief money from the federal CARES Act, but the funding will run out in mid-December. Capstone Community Action CEO Sue Minter is calling upon Congress to pass a new COVID-19 stimulus package so that the program can continue through the winter.
Julia Davis, impact program manager for the Green Mountain United Way, said the meals program reflects the widespread impact of the coronavirus.
“It just has really brought to the forefront of my mind how everyone has been affected,” Davis said, “whether it’s reduced hours or added hours, whether it’s schooling and child care, whether it’s going to the grocery store and not being able to find things that you’re used to finding, or even just mental health,”
The Cornerstone Pub and Kitchen and Joe’s Kitchen at Screamin’ Ridge farm in Montpelier have been supplying CVMC, one of the distribution points.
“Cornerstone is putting out a thousand meals a week to this area, and we just have 200 here that we distribute to CVMC employees who signed up through Working Bridges, which is our piece of it,” Davis said.
Vermont Everyone Eats also has a third local component: the restaurants that are paid to make the meals must buy at least 10% of the ingredients from Vermont farms and food producers. The meals can be customized with vegetarian options, gluten-free choices and other dishes.
“It’s a good plan,” White said. “I hope it helps some restaurants get a little bit of money in their pockets, too, because nobody’s going out to eat anymore.”