UVM research finds food insecurity in Vermont is rising amid COVID-19 outbreak

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BURLINGTON, Vt. – A new survey by researchers at the University of Vermont finds that nearly a quarter of Vermonters aren’t getting enough food during the COVID-19 pandemic study.

According to the results, 24.4 percent of state residents report they are food insecure, up from 18.3 percent. The increase is tied closely with widespread job loss, said Meredith Niles, an assistant professor in UVM’s Department of Nutrition and Food Sciences, and the survey’s principal investigator.

“A large percentage of the newly food insecure, almost 70 percent of those people, have had a job loss or disruption,” Niles said. “We saw really overwhelmingly that people are really lacking trust in understanding the safety of going to the grocery store.”

Coping strategies for those dealing with food insecurity have also caused alarm for Niles and other researchers.

“Two thirds of them said they were already eating less in order to preserve food,” Niles said. “That’s really concerning from a nutritional standpoint. That’s a disrupted eating pattern that we see really only in the most severe at-risk people for food insecurity issues.”

Despite widespread concern among Vermonters about food access, the study found that less than 30 percent of food insecure respondents have enrolled in an assistance program.

Hunger Free Vermont Executive Director Anore Horton said there should be far more utilization of those resources.

“Three Squares Vermont, WIC, and school meals are programs that are for all of us,” Horton said. “These programs have often been unfairly stigmatized, and I think a lot of people don’t know they exist. They’re great for everyone, and will expand to meet the need.”

Horton said everyone should be aware of Vermont 2-1-1, a free service that connects callers with information and resources including food assistance.

Food shelves and other community resources have been working to meet Vermonters’ needs. Since March 16, Feeding Chittenden has been distributing 200 boxes of groceries per day.

They need assistance, but amid the pandemic, volunteering and food donations aren’t as impactful as a donation. The group is trying to raise $150,000 over the next few months.

“When we receive that financial contribution, we can stretch those dollars even further, we can buy in bulk.” said Anna McMahon, Donor and Community Engagement Manager for Feeding Chittenden. “We understand that people want to make that tangible contribution, whether that’s volunteering in person or starting a food drive, but ultimately, the monetary donation really is the most helpful thing.”

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