Keelan: Vermont food insecurity tied to drug epidemic

by Don Keelan

If not daily, certainly weekly, we hear the news (Rutland Herald) of the 50 million people nationwide, including 85,000 Vermonters, who experience food insecurity or, in some cases, no food. Why?

I believe the increase in food insecurity, at least in recent years, is linked to the impact of Covid-19 and exacerbated by the double-digit inflation attached to almost every food group.

Don Keelan

The rise in the number of folks who make up the food insecurity statistic parallels the homelessness statistic: about 1,000 Vermonters before the pandemic, and currently, close to 3,000. Again, why?

There is plenty of food throughout Vermont, especially at this time of year. The fact that food is plentiful does not mean it is inexpensive or evenly distributed.

How to get food to those in desperate need was the subject of a round-table discussion at the Arlington Common in Arlington, Vermont, on September 22, 2022, sponsored by Green Mountain Academy of Life Long Learning (GMALL).

The panelists were from the Hildene farm, Burr and Burton Academy faculty, the Manchester Food Cupboard, an East Dorset long-term farmer/grower, and moderated by the managing editor of Edible Vermont. The panel gathered at the Arlington Common’s Performance Hall and addressed an audience of 60. Due to the agenda’s seriousness, more should have attended.

It was clear to me, and I hope it can come to fruition, that the panelists believe there should be greater collaboration among the county’s organizations that grow, prepare, and distribute food. This writer has been advocating such a goal for years, and still, the nonprofit organizations involved in food distribution are of one mind, protect their turf.

Why (aside from inflation and Covid) do we have such a vast number of Vermonters with food insecurity when the employment rate is so low, businesses beg for employees, and the Governor noted there are over 20,000 jobs in the State waiting to be filled?

Not everyone wishes to admit it, but one community segment seeking food is closely connected to the Opioid epidemic that has rocked Vermont, especially Bennington County, in recent years and only worsening.

If someone with $100 to spend is afflicted with addiction, and their choice is between buying food or illegal drugs, it is not difficult to imagine where the $100 will be spent.

Our area is desperate for a significant addiction/recovery center. Such a center could provide medical treatment, counseling, housing, food, job training, and family support.

There is only one organization in our area that could be enlisted to provide these comprehensive services: Southwestern Vermont Medical Center.
SWVMC now owns the former Southern Vermont College campus that could be repurposed to provide such services. The Medical Center has the expertise to recruit the needed professionals. It also has the skills to operate a multi-service complex.

What is needed is the Medical Center’s leaders’ willingness to commit to a costly multi-year challenge that will have little to no financial return.

Our area’s farmers’ markets, local farms, and food distribution centers can only do so much. The recent increased demand for their products will soon overwhelm them.

It has been said that we will not arrest our way out of the illegal drug crisis, and we will certainly not address the underlying causes of food insecurity by giving away free food to those families/individuals battling addiction.

A half-dozen years ago, a drug/Methadone Hub Center was promised to Bennington County but has not materialized. Now, we have an even greater need and opportunity to make it happen. What is missing? The willingness in which to do so.

The author is a U.S. Marine (retired), CPA, and columnist living in Arlington, VT.

Categories: Commentary

8 replies »

  1. Yes. Hopefully people are starting to get it. The Government looked the other way when Oxycontin pills were handed out like candy. No one except Peter Shumlin even mentioned it. Too little and too late, the pill game, by Doctors was shut down. Then they had an opioid addiction situation that was massive, and our children had to travel to Southern New England City (ghettos), to get cheaper and available Heroin. Soon the Gangs drove or took trains up, with bundle of bags to double or triple their investment. Customers were already waiting. They brought guns with them, or easily traded dope for them here. This was made easier because it followed timewise, the BLM movement and Police were just reduced, and the remaining afraid to confront a Black- (criminal or not). Progressive 1960s pro pot Burlington Politics, made real prosecution unlikely, anyway. The big cash settlements that came to Vermont from Oxy distributors and not a single realistic mention of helping the sadly addicted with it. Homelessness is their best hope. Where are the Prison Diversion Programs, the realistic treatments and Sober Houses. It only becomes real when you are personally touched by it. I own a small labor intensive business, but can t hire day labors despite paying a high rate.Vermont Doesn t have a food problem. It has a Drug, Crime, and Lack of Honesty Political Problem. We need strength, honesty, and Political Leadership capable of meeting the challenge.

  2. A better solution might be stop saving the chronic over-doses.
    That problem will fix itself.
    Most addicts don’t really want to quit. Those that seriously want to stop can get help it is there.
    We don’t need another taxpayer fleecing over this.
    I’m a working disabled person. Taxes are my biggest expense, I can’t afford another dime period!


  3. Over the past two decades, how many bureaucrats and politicians have said Vermont has a drug problem? The same ones who said we would have broadband state wide? How many billions of dollars spent and the results are worse now than when it started two decades ago? How many boards, commissions and non-profits spring up to address these issues and it only gets worse? Vermont is a grifter’s paradise. Vermont is a cesspool of corruption. Vermont is a failed State and sold out to foreign entities. Go woke, go broke and collapse. Those with their heads buried in the sand will soon realize it, but it’s far, far too late.

  4. A person makes their own choice between eating and getting high. If they choose high, so be it. The days of blaming over prescription is long gone. There is so much free food and help for the homeless in this state it isn’t any wonder why the homeless population has grown.

  5. Simplistic corrolations are neither true nor solutions, rife with stigmatizing rhetoric, divisionary language, and politically correct and motivated agendas…Hegelian dialectics.

    Food insecurity is a real thing with many factors contributing to it. Right now Covid is front and center, period. Our administration made it impossible for Vermonters to collaborate with each other on an individual and community level to build into a food secure future; incentives and over regulation block using land for community gardens; and instead of ‘helping each other out’ as thy neighbor as thyself, liberal solutions are to create another committee or agency and throw money at the human problem of: not having access to healthy food that can and should be feeding ALL Vermonters abundantly. Its not like we hadn’t been doing that before the plandemic.

    Qui bono? Follow the money – that is who is controlling the food supply chain.
    And it ALL runs out of our State.
    We COULD be easily feeding everyone in the State from our own land and resources.
    And focusing on solutions instead of the blame and shame game of libtards.

  6. It is no surprise that advocates of the constant expansion of the social cornucopia will inflate the numbers of those in “need”. In Vermont, recipients of housing and food assistance are qualified using the “honor system”. Everyone has some level of financial resources available to them, whether earned or through public assistance, and when food and housing needs are met through redundant programs, that frees up the cash resources for other expenses. From the number of overdoses that have occurred in Vermont’s subsidized hotel rooms, it is clear what some of those cash resources are being spent on. Public officials, and the democrat candidate for governor who advocate for continuing the hotel program have some of this blood on their hands when they push to preserve a program that provides the luxury and privacy of individual hotel rooms with no supervision. As well, government-subsidized feeding programs are ripe with corruption, as we have seen with the $250 Million fraud of the Minnesota “Feeding our Future” scam.

  7. Every family that deals with a loved one with addition has tried in vain. We have reached our tolerance for “helping” our loved one after many, many years of virtue signaling programs. As hard as this choice is, we need to cut them loose to save ourselves. I feel no regret or guilt and have not given up. I have surrendered to a higher power and that certainly is NOT government or NGO’s. After society has collapsed under the progressive agendas, we need to remain mentally and physically healthy so we can rebuild society in the likeness of our creator.