Editor’s note: This commentary is by Jerry Greenfield, a co-founder of Ben & Jerry’s.
We are facing an unprecedented crisis in hunger in our state.
Like all of you, I have seen the photos and videos of long lines of Vermonters waiting to get food boxes, and I’ve heard stories of huge increases in demand at our community food shelves and from schools working tirelessly to get lunches to their students. The time is now for policymakers to support a comprehensive plan to address food insecurity in our state.
The work of schools, food shelves, and meal sites to feed all of us during this devastating time is nothing short of miraculous. But it’s not sustainable, and they can’t do it on their own much longer. The state of Vermont cannot expect our schools and charitable food system to shoulder the growing burden of this crisis without additional state support.
Recent estimates tell us that food insecurity in Vermont has increased by 46% as a result of the pandemic, and the increased need for food is likely to last for years. It is key that our state supports a plan to address this hunger crisis immediately.
And this isn’t an entirely new story. The pandemic has shone a light on the thousands of people who have long lived in poverty in Vermont and has also resulted in families who have never before been worried about putting food on their table, after suddenly losing their jobs, facing that very reality for the first time. We know that children and people from marginalized populations are especially vulnerable to hunger. No person living in Vermont should be worried about how they will get the food they need to be healthy.
Our local anti-hunger organizations have come together to create a plan to ensure all are fed during this crisis, and it will only be possible if our state designates some of the federal Coronavirus Relief Fund money to support it. I urge our policymakers to commit funds to support access to 3SquaresVT, help schools to continue providing meals during the summer, provide funding to the charitable food system, and support efforts to connect local food with people facing hunger through programs like Crop Cash.
Vermont is a special place. We are fortunate to live in a community where we take care of each other and stand together in the face of adversity. By supporting these efforts to ensure that everyone has access to enough food to maintain their health, the state can also support our local farmers, and protect the wellbeing of the most vulnerable among us, and make Vermont a supportive, community-minded place where we all want to live and work.