Letter carriers will collect donations for Vermont food shelves

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(Host) Letter carriers will do more than just drop off the mail across Vermont tomorrow.

They’ll also pick up donations that they’ll deliver to food shelves across the region.

VPR’s Ross Sneyd has more.

(Sneyd) Darlene Caron volunteers at the Chittenden Emergency Food Shelf when she can, but she’s also a client.

There are months when she can’t make the 100 dollars or so in her food budget stretch far enough.

And she’s far from alone.

(Caron) “I see more people coming in. I think it’s increased quite a bit. The more food we can have people donate the better because there is a big increase on people coming in, out of necessity. Because there’s nothing out there for them.”

(Sneyd) The food shelf in Burlington’s Old North End provides almost a week’s worth of food to 1,900 households a month.

Food Shelf Director Rob Meehan says that in just the past three months, 2,000 people showed up who’d never been there before.

(Meehan) “You’re seeing what was once the middle class, that seems to be eroding. We’re finding people working more than one job, or may be returning from Iraq, who are finding themselves here at the food shelf for the first time. And there’s a stigma about that sometimes.”

(Sneyd) But more and more people have little other choice.

Prices have spiked for everything from gasoline to food staples such as rice. So Meehan has braced himself for more busy months ahead at the food shelf.

(Meehan) “Unfortunately, from all indicators of the economy right now, it doesn’t look like things are getting better on that front. So we’re concerned about this coming year.”

(Sneyd) That’s why the Emergency Food Shelf and similar agencies across the state welcome the chance to work with the National Association of Letter Carriers.

Postal workers hope to gather more than 20,000 pounds of food just for the Chittenden Emergency Shelf. That should serve clients for several weeks. Similar goals have been set around the state.

The food will be welcome because, just like their clients, the food shelves’ budget isn’t going as far as it used to.

And they haven’t had enough of some staples, such as tuna fish or peanut butter.

That’s where volunteers like Darlene Caron come in. She and food shelf staff offer some menu ideas.

(Caron) “A lot of times someone will come in and they’ll see like rice and vegetables and sauce. `Well, I can’t feed my family.’ I say, `Yeah, honey, you can. Let me show you.’ And we sit down with them and show them how to make meals that they never would have thought of.”

(Sneyd) Caron hopes there will be more menu options after this weekend, if the mail carriers bring in as much as they hope.

Anyone who wants to donate can put together a bag or box of nonperishable foods. Things like soup, pasta, and cereal. Or protein-rich food, such as tuna and peanut butter. Letter carriers say, leave it next to your mailbox. And they’ll get it to where it can do the most good.

For VPR News, I’m Ross Sneyd.

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