Sanders office pushed for new food box distribution

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By Guy Page

A spokesperson for Sen. Bernie Sanders confirmed Wednesday that his office is responsible for seeking to change the instate distribution process for the federal Farmers to Families food boxes.

Tuesday, March 2, a Vermont pastor whose church had enthusiastically delivered 150-180 boxes per week during February reported that due to intervention by Sanders’ office, the instate distribution would be overseen by the Vermont Food Bank, and his church’s all-volunteer services were no longer required.

Later that day, Vermont Daily emailed this question to Sen. Sanders’ office: “I’ve been corresponding with a church leader in Vermont who says your office excluded churches from farm to family foodbox distribution and gave it to the Food Bank. Is this true? Can you provide some helpful information and context?”

March 3, Vermont Daily received this answer from Sanders’ State Director Kathryn Van Haste, via email from Communications Director Kate Farley:

“It was absolutely unacceptable that the most recent round of the federally-funded Farmers to Families Food Box Program (F2F) failed to meet the needs of hungry Vermonters across our state, leaving behind nearly 250 towns and hundreds of Vermont families. In these uncertain times, it is absolutely critical that struggling Vermont families be able to count on the federal relief they were promised. We addressed these distribution problems directly with the USDA, working with the Vermont Foodbank to build a statewide food distribution network made up of a diverse group of local partners, including churches. Together, they have successfully implemented the program and are meeting the needs of hungry Vermonters in every corner of our state.

“We are grateful for these important efforts and encourage any Vermonter who needs food help to contact the Vermont Foodbank for details about a food box delivery near them. To all those who have joined in this effort to make sure no Vermonter goes hungry – thank you and keep up the great work.”

Vermont Daily followed up with two more emailed questions, as yet unanswered: “How do you know about the 250 unserved towns? Where did that figure come from? Also – was any attempt made to rectify the distribution problems with the former vendor?” A phone message for Farley was left at Sanders’ office in Burlington this morning.

The Farmers to Families (F2F) Food Box Program was begun by the Trump administration to fight pandemic-related food insecurity. Faith-based organizations were welcome to participate. Last month, many churches did.

But they won’t be participating (at no cost) this month or next because the Vermont Congressional delegation in a Feb. 12 letter to US Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack denigrated the distribution effort and asked him to “open the contract for rebidding for March and April.” The Congressional delegation claims GTE vastly underserved the Vermont population, “delivering boxes to only seven locations in the entirety of our rural state, in just five of the state’s 14 counties. This will leave nearly 250 towns, and hundreds Vermont families, without the food assistance they were promised under this federal program.”

The letter does not indicate any effort to work with GTE to address the specified problem, or to include current in-state distributors.

Instead: “In selecting a bidder, we ask that USDA take into account past performance of vendors and prioritize those with a proven track record of successful implementation of the program and those with existing local partnerships and distribution networks.”

The changeover came quickly. Food-filled tractor-trailers sent to faith-based groups across Vermont in February are this month headed for the Vermont Food Bank – an organization specifically mentioned in the Sanders/Leahy/Welch letter. 

The Vermont Food Bank does have a long, excellent record of distributing food to the needy. Vermont churches wish to “keep up the great work” of distributing food boxes to needy neighbors.

Agency of Human Services Secretary Mike Smith said at today’s press conference the distribution program was not reaching enough people. He said he welcomes volunteers who want to participate and urged them to contact him. His office can be contacted via email or by phone at (802) 241-0440. The physical address is: 280 State Drive, Waterbury, VT  05671-1080. No-one has reached out to him yet, Smith said.

Categories: Covid-19

7 replies »

  1. I’m sorry I don’t get it. There are only 251 towns in the State of Vermont. Is Beanie’s office contending that the church that was involved in this was expected to “serve” the whole state ? Did no one ask or specify what the expectations were of an organization taking on this project ? I suspect that there is more to this story.

  2. So I called Mike Smith’s office and his secretary didn’t know about the message for us to call his office to volunteer for the distribution. She had to go find out some information and call me back which she did. The response – go to the Food Bank website to find out more or call 211 if the information isn’t there.

    The website has a list for last week and this coming week in various “regional locations” (about half a dozen each week, not the same locations so people are not accessing food weekly like it was previously) and you have to register to pick up food. Most every place is listed as FULL already, which means there is no more food next week available at those locations. I have no idea how many boxes they are allotted in each place. There are churches included as pick up places for some of those locations, at least for the moment.

    The folks we were working with at our church were distributing weekly for first come, first served. Those regional locations do not encompass “250 towns”, so I think the statement that the original process was “not servicing 250 towns as the Food Bank would be able” is quite misleading. It looks like some folks will have to drive an hour or more to get to a regional location. I’m also wondering how the Food Bank is advertising these sites, because if I had not become involved in this, I would not have known about this distribution.

    I was going to see what would happen if I volunteered, but I will have to wait until next week as their contacts are closed at this point on Friday.

  3. Fishy story, as what usually happens when Leahy, Sanders and Welch are involved. they make a problem where there is none, especially where churches are involved!

  4. Couldn’t agree more.with Kay Ellis’ response. Typical government program: create a problem and then fail to solve it and ask for more money to fix it. My first question is: what is the need. As I see school buses rolling around delivering breakfast and lunches to children who are at home with their parents (who are responsible to feed them) and a plea for food donations from every “do good” corner I have to ask this question of Leahy, Sanders, and Welch: Are there REALLY this many starving, “unable to care for themselves” individuals in this nation? Or is the motivation something else? And where is the money coming from that funds all of this ?

  5. For several months many needy families have not been able to get a box of food from Vermont Food Bank, as hard as they have worked to provide food, and they did as good as they could. The problem was with the distribution companies that provided the food. Every time sites opened up they would fill up, leaving many people without help. There was a significant drop in locations and the amount of open signup slots the last few months. The churches ran their operation very efficiently. They offered food to anyone in need. went and picked up the food and gave it out in Cambridge on Saturday afternoon, which was great for people who had difficulty getting to Morrisville during the weekday mornings. The churches were helping meet the needs of people unable to get food from the Vermont Food Bank and brought it closer to their homes, helping those with transportation issues. They were supporting the efforts of the Vermont Food Bank, not hurting their operation. The churches did all the work and were helping as the state was already complaining about the recent companies the Food Bank was working with. It is ridiculous. Sec. Smith said the people are welcome to help the Vermont Food Bank, but they were already doing so when they were shut down. And the Vermont Food Bank still does not have enough sign up slots so people still cannot get food from them. So again people are being left out. The Food Bank does not offer boxes on Saturday but the churches did. The churches enhanced the work of the Food Bank and helped people not being served by them.The Cambridge operation was run as efficiently as any Food Bank distribution event. Sec. Smith’s disparaging remarks are unfounded concerning the church distribution. The church did a good job. Too bad our politicians have an issue with churches who were helping people not being helped by the Food Bank Farm to Family Program. People are still complaining on their website and other social media sites because they are not able to sign up for food.

  6. Sanders the Marxist wants a faceless, clueless government bureaucracy to act through faceless, clueless, leftist community organizations. When someone get their assistance from people they know on the local level, there might be some sense of appreciation or indebtedness and we dont want that…it will confuse people.

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