Advocates, restaurants call for extension of meals program

BERLIN, Vt. (AP) — Advocates for a program that uses federal coronavirus relief money to distribute free restaurant-made meals intended for people in need during the pandemic and to help those eateries stay afloat are calling for the program to be funded past mid-December.

The statewide Everyone Eats program offers restaurants financial support to cook healthy meals for the community, said Sue Minter, executive director of Capstone Community Action on Thursday.

In three months, $1.5 million has been allocated to the industry, allowing over 100 restaurants to prepare 150,000 meals distributed around the state — but the funding ends in December, she said at a press event at Central Vermont Medical Center, where 200 meals are given out weekly.


“Seven months into the pandemic hunger in Vermont is increasing,” Minter said. “And the impact of unemployment and the unfolding economic disruption is intensifying. And Vermonters are rising to the challenge together.”

One in four Vermonters now face food insecurity, compared to one in 10 before March, she said.

The pandemic has also had a dramatic impact on the state’s hospitality industry, particularly restaurants, which are now “on life support,” she said.

Cornerstone Pub & Kitchen, in Barre, provides 200 free meals each Thursday through the program, said owner Rich McSheffrey.

“I can’t stress enough the significance of it, I can’t stress enough the impact of it, and I definitely will say that if this program has any possibility of extending then it’s definitely in the best interest,” he said.

He believes ending the program in the winter is senseless, he said.

“It seems very stressful to me to think that so many people with food insecurities and so many people that are hungry are going to have a program stopped in Vermont in the winter,” he said.

In other developments related to the coronavirus on Thursday:

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UTILITY BILLS

Less than half of an $8 million COVID-19 pandemic relief program for people and small businesses behind on their utility bills has been used, and the state is encouraging those eligible to apply.

The Vermont COVID-19 Arrearage Assistance Program can help with past-due bills to keep the lights on, water flowing, and heat running as winter approaches.

“We only have six weeks left to essentially spend the full $8 million,” Riley Allen, deputy commissioner of the Vermont Department of Public Service told MyChamplainValley.com on Wednesday.

Allen estimates that the total amount of unpaid bills in the state is much larger than what’s been awarded so far, the station reported.

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COLLEGE CASES

St. Michael’s College in Colchester is going to all remote classes after six positive cases of the coronavirus were detected in the latest round of surveillance testing. All the cases were asymptomatic.

In a message posted Thursday on the college’s website, college President Lorraine Sterritt said that, out of an abundance of caution, the school would move to all-remote classes and all in-person activities are suspended through the weekend. Dining will be takeout-only.

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THE NUMBERS

Vermont reported 15 new cases of the coronavirus on Thursday for a statewide total to date of 1,987. Eight of the new cases were in Chittenden County, two in Washington County, and singular cases were scattered in counties around the state. The number of deaths has remained at 58 since late July.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, or death.

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Associated Press writer Wilson Ring in Stowe contributed to this report.

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