BROC 01.jpg

Steve Coggeshall, a volunteer at BROC in Bennington packs up a frozen turkey as he prepares a box of food Tuesday for Thanksgiving distribution. 

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.  

BENNINGTON — Charitable organizations looking to lend a helping hand to those in need across Bennington County could use a little help from the communities themselves.

With the holiday season now upon us and food prices soaring, food shelves in both Bennington and Manchester are seeing a significant uptick in traffic.

“We’ve never been this busy. [We’re] just consistently busy, week after week,” said Martha Carey, director of Manchester’s Community Food Cupboard. Carey has worked for the food cupboard for over 22 years.

“We’ve given away well over 200 turkeys at this point, and I feel like that’s usually our total for the year,” she added. “So [demand] is definitely up by at least 20 percent.”

Bennington Rutland Opportunity Council’s (BROC) food shelf coordinator Amy Scott said they’ve distributed over 240 10-14 pound turkeys, between Bennington and Rutland counties, complete with sweet potatoes, squash, potatoes, milk and butter to help make the holiday special for all.

“Vermont Food Bank has been a huge help for us,” she said. “We do a lot of our buying through them.”

Scott also specifically mentioned Mighty Food Farm in Shaftsbury, Miller Farm in Vergennes and Vermont Creamery in Websterville as being instrumental in making the Thanksgiving meals possible for BROC, both through donations and lower-priced grant-funded purchases.

The effort to feed the community, of course, is not limited to the holidays. While the desire for a Thanksgiving feast may explain some of the increase in families seeking assistance from food banks, there are certainly other factors driving the increased demand.

The combination of factors such as inflation and job disruptions due to COVID-19 have food insecurity reaching record levels statewide. Research by the University of Vermont concluded nearly 30 percent of those in the Green Mountain State had experienced food insecurity since March.

“A lot of people are freaking out more about prices of fuel going up, and not being able to have enough money for not only fuel, but essential needs, as well,” said Sheena Tarr, administrative assistant for the food shelf at BROC.

Supporting more families in need is only compounded by federal COVID-related funding like the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), and the Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) starting to dry up.

“We’ve had a huge jump [in spending],” said Carey. “Partially because food has gotten more expensive, and partially because some of the programs where we were getting food that we didn’t have to pay for have ended.”

The crew that makes it happen at BROC

Steve Coggeshall, who recently retired from teaching history at Mount Anthony Union High School, has been volunteering at BROC since February 2021, which turned into a part-time job there as of this past July.

“Some days are slow, but some days are very busy,” he said. “It seems to have picked up quite a bit here recently.”

Coggeshall also mentioned that the Bennington food shelf previously only allowed one visit a month from those who qualified based on income, but made the change a couple of months ago to allow a visit every two weeks, which has helped spread out some of the busier days.

Support our journalism. Subscribe today. →

“It’s nice for people who travel by public transportation,” Scott said. “That way they can make multiple trips every month and don’t have to carry as much.”

Coggeshall, who used to come to help out a couple of days a week, now spends three hours in the food shelf every day, Monday through Friday, keeping the shelves stocked and unloading trucks. He proudly claimed he keeps his operation “cleaner than a supermarket,” thanks to his “you touch it, you take it” policy and always working with a mask and gloves around food products.

Coggeshall says he always found the work very rewarding even before he was an employee, as most patrons show a lot of gratitude and it seems to turn some of their days right around.

“The vast majority of people are very thankful and nice,” he said.

He also gives a lot of credit to Tarr, who checks people in and takes care of paperwork at the food shelf while wearing many other hats for BROC.

“Sheena is amazing. I call her ‘superhero.’”

How to help

Carey says one of the biggest challenges for the food cupboard in Manchester is simply how much space they have.

“It takes a lot of effort to set it up at the beginning and break it down at the end,” she said. “We don’t have the space to keep it open all the time. It’s not like a store, it’s more like a pop-up.”

Carey says the hope is to expand the food cupboard in time, but for now, even more volunteer hands on deck would be a big help in the logistics of bringing the operation to life each day they’re open and accommodating the increased volume.

Carey also said cash donations are always helpful, but many might be surprised to learn that the donated items that are often most appreciated aren’t food.

“Personal care products are extremely helpful. Things like toilet paper, diapers, shampoo, toothpaste, all of those kinds of things,” she said. “We don’t have a budget to buy those types of things, and you can’t buy them with food stamps. So they just go a little extra towards helping families.”

Coggeshall noted that BROC seeks non-perishable food items, as well as cash donations when possible.

Ultimately, community organizations like the Manchester Food Cupboard and BROC don’t seem to have much preference for how you help, as much as that you do help.

“Be involved in your community,” Carey said. “If you know someone who needs help, we’re here to help people help people. A lot of people don’t want to come to us directly. If there’s a neighbor or someone you know who’s struggling, I hope people will reach out.”

Tory Rich can be reached at trich@manchesterjournal.com

Follow him on Twitter: @ToryRich6


TALK TO US

If you'd like to leave a comment (or a tip or a question) about this story with the editors, please email us.
We also welcome letters to the editor for publication; you can do that by filling out our letters form and submitting it to the newsroom.