The Mad River Valley Community Pantry, located behind Evergreen Place senior housing in Waitsfield, provides free produce, meats, dairy, dry and canned goods and household essentials to community members. Using the pantry is anonymous; the only information asked of those who use the pantry is how many people are in their household. The pantry, formerly called the Mad River Valley Food Shelf, has been serving the Mad River Valley for roughly 20 years.
The pantry receives produce and sometimes organic eggs and milk from Community Harvest, a statewide gleaning organization, donations from Mehuron’s and Shaw’s, occasionally yogurt or imperfect cheese batches from von Trapp’s Farmstead, donations from Vermont Foodbank, local schools and churches, Mad River Valley Rotary, Vermont Coffee Company and periodically other local stores and producers, including Kenyon’s, Neill Farm, and North Hollow Farm. The Mad River Valley Interfaith Council is the pantry’s primary sponsor, along with many individuals.
“There’s a lot of community support,” volunteer Joanne Virkler said. “A lot of contributors make this work,” volunteer Dan Redding added. “Community Harvest is a lifesaver” that allows the pantry to provide fresh produce throughout the winter season, he said.
Harwood Union High School holds a contest each year to see which grade can collect the most food for the pantry. Beginning last year, the school has also donated unwanted milk cartons to the pantry. Local schools and churches do fall food drives.
In addition to food, the community pantry provides COVID-19 tests from the Vermont Department of Health, feminine hygiene products from a fundraiser the Village Grocery held, toilet paper, dish soap, laundry detergent, dog food and other essentials.
Supply chains and rising costs of food have presented some challenges for the pantry. “Throughout COVID there have been issues with supply chains, which have created quite a few shortages with the Vermont Foodbank,” which is a subsidiary of the national foodbank Feeding America, Redding said. Typically, the Mad River Valley Community Pantry would have about five pages of items from which to select from the Foodbank. For the past year or so, he said they’ve had a page and a half. “It makes it very difficult to get basic essentials. We end up spending more out of our budget.” He also said some products simply aren’t available from the Foodbank, such as breakfast cereals and canned black beans. He noted flour has been out for about a year and was just able to find it at the Foodbank this week for the first time in a while.
“This whole shortage really has a ripple effect on everybody,” Redding said. Typically, the pantry receives a monthly shipment of food from the Foodbank, though lately they’ve had to do additional trips to the Foodbank in Barre each month to pick up products that had been previously unavailable, which Redding said can be time-consuming.
Volunteers supplement supplies they’re unable to find by shopping at Shaw’s, though they noted food prices have increased across the board and can be a strain on their budget. “Our costs are going up as well as everybody else’s,” Virkler said. “We like to keep it local but have to look at the prices,” Spaulding added.
“We’ve seen quite an uptick in usage of the pantry,” Virkler said. “Inflation is hitting everybody.” Spaulding said some folks use the pantry to supplement their usual food budget while others do all their shopping at the pantry. People choose what they need, though there are sometimes limitations on certain items such as dairy and eggs, which the volunteers said are expensive these days. They said that accessing the pantry is convenient for the seniors who live upstairs at Evergreen Place. Excess food is donated to the local Meals On Wheels program.
The pantry is open to shoppers on Tuesdays from 10 a.m. to noon, Wednesdays from 4 to 6 p.m., and Saturdays from 10 to noon. People can donate food at Mehuron’s, Shaw’s, local churches or at the pantry during open hours. The Interfaith Council is also accepting donations of food and funds for Thanksgiving turkey baskets at The Valley Reporter office at 173 Slow Road or at local churches. During the holidays, Waitsfield Telecom runs a toy program at the pantry so parents can shop for toys for their kids while they pick up food.