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National Guard distributes much-appreciated provisions in Thetford

  • Vermont National Guardsman Sgt. Kevin Stevens catches a box tossed by Specialist Jacob Roy at a food distribution site at Thetford Academy in Thetford, Vt., on Wednesday, May 21, 2020. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Bridget Kendall, of Strafford, Vt., waits in a long line with her sons Gavin, 4, and Emmit, 7, during a distribution of food by the Vermont Foodbank and Vermont National Guard at Thetford Academy in Thetford, Vt., on Wednesday, May 21, 2020. Kendall has just returned to her job as an administrative assistant after six weeks at home with her children. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Members of the Vermont National Guard load cars with milk, cheese, vegetables and non- perishable food at a distribution site in Thetford, Vt., on Wednesday, May 21, 2020. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 5/21/2020 9:34:31 PM
Modified: 5/21/2020 9:34:20 PM

THETFORD — When his coffee-roasting business shut down at the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak in March, Thetford resident Adam Corcoran immediately filed for unemployment.

But as the weeks passed, his family didn’t see any money coming in, and finances began to get tighter.

“We’ve basically been living out of our pantry,” Corcoran, a father of two, said of the past six weeks.

That’s why, when he heard about a food distribution effort held by the Vermont Foodbank and the Abbey Group Food Service on Thursday at Thetford Academy, Corcoran eagerly arrived two hours early. The food, he said, will help get fresh meals for his family for two to three weeks while he continues to look for work.

His was one of over 500 cars that came to the event, with some people arriving as early as 3 a.m. for the 10 a.m. distribution. For four hours, officials with the Foodbank and Abbey Group, along with the Vermont National Guard, gave away kits of food that included 25 pounds of produce, two gallons of milk, 10 pounds of chicken, and 7½ pounds of butter and cheese, to families in their cars.

It’s the third event in the last week and one of many similar events the Foodbank has held since the outbreak of the virus. The group has plans to continue with donations around Vermont through the end of May, and possibly into June or July, said Joe Dauscher of the Foodbank.

Speaking from his truck stopped outside the academy, Corcoran said he cared less about what type of food he gets, and more about seeing the response from the state.

“I’m impressed to see the community helping out,” said Corcoran, who grew up locally, adding that Thetford has a lot of elderly community members who are scared to venture out to a grocery store amid the outbreak of COVID-19. “I’m seeing people I haven’t seen in eight weeks.”

His story of struggling in the middle of a national pandemic rang true for many of the people who joined the line of cars that stretched over 2 miles down Academy Road on Thursday morning.

“We’re running out of money fast. I’m trying to find a job, but there’s nothing out there,” said Bruce Avery, of Thetford, who was picking up food for his family and another.

“We’re so grateful,” added Cassandra Mears, of Randolph, who arrived three hours early for the event.

Because of the virus, her husband had recently seen his hours at a local factory reduced — but not enough to qualify for unemployment benefits — and the family was struggling with meals.

“We’re all shopping a little differently,” she said. “I hope that all of us are a little more grateful for what we have after this.”

She was accompanied by a friend, Lori Hicks, also of Randolph, who came to pick up food for herself as well as her son and daughter-in-law.

The couple owns a house cleaning business and haven’t been able to get work since the virus broke out, she said.

“My son said, ‘Mom, if you could get me one (kit of food) I would so appreciate it,” she said.

Hicks wasn’t the only one picking up donations for her family. Vershire resident Kasey Weedham arrived almost three hours early to get food for her grandparents and her parents, who are all immunocompromised.

Her relatives typically shop for themselves, but the COVID-19 outbreak has made them scared to leave their homes, especially to go to the store. In the meantime, Weedham has taken on the responsibility of providing for the extended family as well as her own four children.

“Shopping for three to four houses is a big undertaking,” Weedham said from her car, adding that this donation eases her burden.

Carrie Brennan, Head of School for the Thetford Academy, said she was eager to have their campus host the donation effort, adding that the school has hosted major sporting events in the past.

“We’ve practiced with this kind of volume,” she said.

As people waited in their hot cars, members of the Upper Valley Haven passed out pamphlets of information on their own food bank.

Gregory Smith, of the Vermont Agency of Transportation’s Thetford office, walked down the line in the 80-degree weather, asking drivers if they needed food or water.

“I just like these people,” he said, adding that he wants to let his neighbors know that he can help if they need. “They can’t see me smile through a mask.”

Thursday’s effort was funded largely by a $5 million federal grant from the USDA to the Abbey Group. The Enosburg Falls, Vt.-based group, which also operates under the name “Underwood Catering,” reached out to local farmers and dairies to help acquire the supplies, and then partnered with the Foodbank to donate them.

Nina Hansen, vice president of operations for Abbey Group, said the turnout has been “extraordinary.” She said the group had to prepare food kits for around 1,000 families, but that she “did not anticipate the need.”

As Hansen spoke, a member of the National Guard approached her to ask whether he could break protocol because one car wanted to get supplies for seven families.

“You can,” she told him before turning back. “People are picking up for their neighbors. Everybody is looking out for everybody.”

Anna Merriman can be reached at amerriman@vnews.com or 603-727-3216.




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