Jim Kenyon: SoRo Food Shelf Holding Fundraising Drive for New Location

  • Valley News columnist Jim Kenyon in West Lebanon, N.H., on September 15, 2016. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

When the South Royalton Food Shelf, which had been around for 20 years, was forced to close in June, most folks in town probably figured it was gone for good.

Its home — a former church building on South Windsor Street — had changed hands in April, and the new landlord’s plans didn’t include the food shelf. Finding a new space that was both affordable and not in disrepair seemed a tall order.

“We were getting really discouraged,” said Sue Trottier, one of the volunteers behind the food shelf. “We’ve done a lot of hoping and praying.”

Before shutting down, the food shelf was serving about 50 households a week.

The United Church of South Royalton, better known as the Red Door Church, filled the void as best it could. It didn’t have the space or money to operate a full-fledged food shelf, but it hosted a monthly distribution of canned vegetables, cereal and other commodities.

Among those who regularly visited the food shelf before it closed in June were elderly residents of the nearby Brightwood House, an affordable housing complex.

When I wrote about the closing this summer, I talked with 81-year-old Vivian Caswell, a Brightwood resident who drove neighbors to the food shelf. This week, I asked her how people were managing without it.

“They’re getting by, barely,” said Caswell, who considers herself more fortunate than many retirees. Along with Social Security, she has a small pension from working 20 years at G.W. Plastics in Bethel.

Caswell sometimes drives 20 miles to the Upper Valley Haven in Hartford to stock up on essentials for herself and other Brightwood residents. “Some people really depended on (South Royalton Food Shelf),” she said. “That’s where they’d get their meats, canned goods and bread.”

They’re not alone. The nonprofit Vermont Foodbank, which provides staples and meats at discounted prices to the state’s 120 food shelves, saw the amount of food it distributes annually double from 6 million to 12 million pounds between 2009 and 2016. (South Royalton handed out 15,000 pounds in its final year.)

Although the national economy has supposedly rebounded in recent years, “the jobs people are getting aren’t enough to meet all their needs,” Vermont Foodbank CEO John Sayles said in an interview with Vermont Public Radio last week.

With winter approaching, families are having to decide between “eating and heating,” said Trottier, who was driving 60 miles to Chester, Vt., to pick up fresh vegetables and fruits for the South Royalton Food Shelf.

It’s difficult to stand on the sidelines “when it’s your neighbor who can’t make ends meet,” said the Rev. Josh Moore, the Red Door Church’s pastor for the last four years. But the church’s 150 or so members were worried — and understandably so — that the food shelf was “more work than it could handle.” The church, which goes back more than 150 years, already operates a thrift shop in town.

In early August, Moore returned from vacation to learn of a new development: A wealthy donor, who wished to remain anonymous, was willing to give up to $75,000 toward a new home for the food shelf.

The one requirement: Supporters must match the gift dollar for dollar. The benefactor believed that the community needed to be “invested” in the project, Moore said.

Around the same time, Trottier and her husband, Larry, who is chairman of the Royalton Selectboard, came across a building, one mile outside the village on Route 14, that showed promise.

The one-story building, which started out as a diner more than 30 years ago, recently had been used for rental housing but now was vacant. The property is assessed at $167,400, according to town records.

When owners Robert and Deborah McShinsky, who split their time between South Royalton and Florida, heard what the building would be used for they agreed to sell it for $150,000.

Red Door Church had a decision to make: Did members want to take on the task of raising money and overseeing the food shelf, or let it drop in hopes that another nonprofit organization would step up?

The vote was nearly unanimous. “We can’t stand by and watch people suffering in our community,” Moore said.

Now comes the hard work — convincing the community that the food shelf is a cause worthy of writing checks for.

The church expects to send out a fundraising letter within the next week. It has already approached Vermont Law School about helping out. (With the cost of law school these days, I wouldn’t be surprised if some students use the food shelf.) Supporters also are hoping the town will pitch in.

“We really need this to be a community-wide effort,” Moore told me. “We can’t do it alone.”

The church has set a fundraising goal of $100,000 to cover the remaining cost of the building and have a little bit left over for minor renovations and purchasing food, which can run from $500 to $1,200 a month.

If the fundraising drive is successful, the church will take ownership in January. Meanwhile, with the McShinskys’ blessing, the church hopes to have the food shelf up and running in the next month or so.

Winter is coming. No one should have to choose between heating and eating.

Jim Kenyon can be reached at jkenyon@vnews.com.


Robert and Deborah McShinsky have agreed to sell  a building on Route 14 to be used as a food shelf in South Royalton. Their last name was misspelled in an earlier version of this column.