Kate Rowland lives in Richmond, around the corner from Our Lady of the Holy Rosary Church. She often stops by the church on Thursdays, with her dog in tow, to pick up free dinners from the Overlook Cafe in Burlington.

The Overlook’s chicken stir fry and vegetarian stir fry are among more than 1,600,000 free meals distributed by Vermont Everyone Eats. Under the program, restaurants are paid to cook healthy meals that are distributed to people affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s been a huge help for me financially, of course,” Rowland said. “And just saving time not having to cook every night — it’s been a saving grace, really.”

The program was launched in August 2020 with $5 million from the federal CARES Act. FEMA has chipped in nearly $14 million to keep it going. The program was due to be phased out on September 30.

But Bella Fazio, Everyone Eats Chittenden County community outreach and distribution manager, said it’s been extended through the end of the year.

“We’ll be giving out meals through at least the first three weeks of December; we’re still figuring out the last week of December,” Fazio said.

Some of the meal sites require registration in advance. However, at many of them — including in Richmond — it isn’t necessary.

“You don’t have to be eligible income-wise,” Fazio said. “You can really just show up and tell us how many meals you’d like. We like to keep it for everyone — that’s why it’s called Everyone Eats!”

More than 200 restaurants have taken part in Vermont Everyone Eats. The restaurants must buy at least 10% of the meals’ ingredients from Vermont farms and food producers.

“I’m shocked that it’s still going on,” Rowland said. “Every week that I can come here, I’m just very grateful for it. Every week is a different variety of food, which is very nice, and the food is very wholesome and healthy.”

Find out which Vermont Everyone Eats meal drop-off site is closest to you