The Mad River Valley Food Shelf, located at the back of Evergreen Place, has undergone COVID upgrades, and its organizers are also working on ways to serve more members of the community.
The food shelf is a 350-square-foot room stocked full of food. This space is filled by donations from Mehuron’s and Shaw’s, orders from the VT Foodbank and personal donations made by volunteers who shop to keep staples in the food shelf. The space is provided, rent free, by Downstreet Housing. Funding for additional food comes from community members who send money to Mad River Valley Interfaith Council, who manages the food shelf.
The food shelf has been a community asset since Downstreet renovated the building in 2001. In the period of time between the 2008 recession and Tropical Storm Irene in 2011, the food shelf served an average of 200 households per month. That number is now closer to 60 households.
“I think that people who were struggling financially have left The Valley because it is cost prohibitive to be here,” said Rebecca Baruzzi, interim volunteer food shelf coordinator and project manager for Mad River Community Fund (MRVCF). She said that the reasons people are leaving are complex and interconnected.
“We’ve got an acute shortage of workforce and affordable housing. According to the Mad River Valley Housing Coalition, we’ve lost 200 rental units in the last three years and housing prices have increased by 33% in that same period of time. We are losing our working class,” she added.
That lack of housing creates workforce shortages which impact businesses owners and leads to lower enrollment in local schools.
“I know that there are people who continue to struggle to stay here; they are just a bit further upstream economically than people who have left already. There are many local families who often have to choose between a car repair or the electric bill. Some of our local families keep the heat set at 60 degrees to save money so they can pay for the internet, which is needed for remote schooling,” said Baruzzi.
“We want to reach those families too,” said Susan Bauchner, president of the Mad River Interfaith Council.
“We are re-imagining the food shelf as a space to provide people with consistent staples so that they can stretch their budgets further to cover the cost of housing, childcare, utilities and transportation that are already so high,” Bauchner added.
To that end, several changes have been made at the food shelf. The hours have been increased to make access more available for people who work traditional hours.
Brad Cook of Building Performance Systems and a Yestermorrow instructor has installed an air exchange system to provide better ventilation. Evergreen-resident-only hours were implemented to help keep residents isolated from the outside population. COVID screenings and temperatures are taken of all entrants and the high-touch areas are consistently wiped down after each person leaves. Free Wheelin’ is on standby to start delivering prepackaged bags for community members who do not want to risk being in public.
The all-volunteer staff have also prepared to support an influx of new users that have been economically hit by COVID closures and job losses.
The food shelf is located at the back of Evergreen Place at 5308 Main Street, Waitsfield. Hours of operation are Tuesday, 10-noon; Wednesday 4-6 and Saturday 10-noon. For Free Wheelin’ deliveries call 802-496-8853.
The MRVIC is a collection of local faith groups who share resources to provide Thanksgiving baskets, emergency grant funds, joy of the seasons holiday gift certificates and interfaith services. Free Wheelin’ is a car service that is run by the senior center and is supported by the MRVIC and MRVCF. The MRVCF is a community fund overseen by a board of directors to help people through economic hardships. For questions on how to use the food shelf, how to volunteer or how to donate to any of the components of the MRV safety net, contact Baruzzi, 802-461-6241.