KEITH WHITCOMB JR.

Staff Writer

BENNINGTON -- A federal report released last week saying one in eight Vermont households are "food insecure" does not break the numbers down by county, but the leader of a local food charity sees it reflected locally.

The Kitchen Cupboard on Gage Street served 2,448 individuals July, said Sue Andrews, executive director of Greater Bennington Interfaith Community Services Inc., which runs the Kitchen Cupboard, Food and Fuel Fund, and Bennington Free Clinic. Those individuals belonged to 327 Bennington families. One-hundred sixty-nine were children under 5, 226 were between 6 and 12 years old, and 208 were between 13 and 18 years old. She said roughly one fourth of Bennington families are served by the food shelf.

Andrews said one must register to use the Kitchen Cupboard, and that is how data is collected. She plans to start gathering data on how many senior citizens and veterans use the food shelf. It is estimated that about 25 percent are either homeless or do no have the means to cook food.

She said this time of year is when the Kitchen Cupboard sees the most people, mainly because of expenses families incur when sending children back to school. Andrews said school lunches do not seem to slow the need for the cupboard.

Dorigen Keeney, program director for Hunger Free Vermont, a state non-profit, said the report showing one in eight Vermonters are food insecure, meaning they do not have easy access to proper nutrition, is from the United State’s Department of Agriculture which released a report annually on food insecurity. Keeney said Hunger Free Vermont has in the past made its own efforts to get more specific information about the food needs of Vermonters, and has looked at free and reduced school lunch programs for numbers to form estimates on. She said about half of children who qualify for free or reduced lunch in school come from food insecure households.

"In these hungry households, children are not reaching their educational potential, elders are not getting the nutrition they need, and parents are risking their own health to make sure they provide for their children," said Marissa Parisi, executive director of Hunger Free Vermont in a release.

According to studies cited by the group, seniors also suffer from not having access to enough food, causing them to have more illnesses and be less able to independently.

Keeney said more data on the demographics of Vermont’s food insecure population would be helpful, but the group would prefer to put its limited resources into feeding people when possible. "We would love to know more about senior hunger," she said. "Senior hunger is on the rise nationally, but we don’t have a good handle on it."

It is thought that senior hunger may be less of an issue in more densely populated counties that have more senior meal sites, as opposed to more rural ones where meals may only be offered a few times a month, but it is not certain, Keeney said.

Hunger Free Vermont also helps administer the 3SquaresVT program, formerly known as the Food Stamp program. One in six Vermonters are receiving those benefits, according to Hunger Free Vermont.

"3SquaresVT benefits are an important bridge for Vermonters who have lost work or lost hours, and we are very concerned that hunger will increase in Vermont when benefits are reduced this November, just as winter begins and heating bills rise," said Parisi, adding that the federal sequester has led to cuts in other food programs, making the burden on existing ones rise.

Contact Keith Whitcomb Jr. at kwhitcomb@benningtonbanner.com or follow him on Twitter @KWhitcombjr.