Guardsmen share rations: Meals normally reserved for deployment go to residents in need

  • Vermont National Guard members, from left, Spc. Matthew Peralta, Sgt. Robert Horne, Spc. Nicholas Accardi, Cadet Jonathan Laughlin, and Spc. Kody Deuso, load boxed Meals, Ready to Eat, into a car at Hartness State Airport in North Springfield, Vt., Wednesday, April 29, 2020. Distribution of the meals began an hour ahead of schedule as people needing the food began to line up in their vehicles at 7:30 a.m. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to valley news photographs — James M. Patterson

  • Navy veteran Robert Blair, 86, of Springfield, Vt., thanks National Guard members for supplying him with MRE food as they direct him to the exit of the Hartness State Airport in North Springfield, Vt., Wednesday, April 29, 2020. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to

  • Staff Sgt. Daren Farnsworth instructs people arriving at the Hartness State Airport in Springfield, Vt., in what to expect at the Meals, Ready To Eat distribution Wednesday, April 29, 2020. There were 102,400 pre-packaged meals on hand for people in need who came from at least a 30 mile radius. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to Valley News — James M. Patterson

  • Cadet Jonathan Laughlin, of the Vermont National Guard, balances a stack of boxes holding 16 meals each during a distribution if the food to people in need at Hartness State Airport in North Springfield, Vt., Wednesday, April 29, 2020. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to James M. Patterson

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 4/29/2020 9:11:26 PM
Modified: 4/30/2020 4:43:40 PM

NORTH SPRINGFIELD, Vt. — Amanda Burton slowly progressed up Airport Road on Wednesday morning, her car starting and stopping as she and hundreds of other area residents waited to get free boxes of MREs, or “meals ready to eat,” being distributed by the Vermont National Guard.

“Any food helps, especially right now,” the Springfield resident said around 9:30 a.m. as she waited in the roughly half-mile line that stretched west from Hartness State Airport onto Route 106.

Burton said she’s out of work and collecting disability benefits. Times are tough, she said, and having children who aren’t in school adds to those challenges.

“It’s been really tricky,” she said.

Burton was one of the hundreds of people, some from as far away as Randolph and Hartland, who queued at the North Springfield airport to pick up a week’s supply of meals offered by the Guard and Vermont Foodbank.

The event was scheduled for 9 a.m., but cars were already lining up when Guardsmen arrived 90 minutes early to set up, said Sgt. Caleb Lewis.

“As soon as we can get a truckload, we start bringing them through because you can see how busy it is here right now,” Lewis, who lives in nearby Dummerston, Vt., said while pointing to a line leading from the airport parking lot down the street.

He said the Guard prepared five truckloads of MREs for Wednesday’s event, amounting to about 122,880 individual meals.

Each person needing an MRE received a box of 16 containing low-sodium and individually packaged meals.

The boxes had options such as chili mac, veggie lasagna, penne pasta, spaghetti and meatballs, and beef ravioli. There’s also a toaster pastry, a Tootsie Roll and a snack of some sort, according to Vermont Foodbank spokeswoman Nicole Whalen.

She said that the food distributions are intended to “release pressure” on Vermont’s food shelves and pantries, some of which have seen demand double during the coronavirus pandemic.

“We’re facing a food assistance emergency unlike anything that we’ve seen in the 40-year life of food banking,” she said in a phone interview.

A combination of increased demand, difficulty distributing food under social distancing guidelines and a lack of volunteers are making it difficult for many nonprofits to provide aid,” Whalen said.

“It’s really creating a perfect storm for the charitable food system where the Foodbank and our partners are doing everything we can to meet this need but don’t have the capacity,” she said.

Those in line on Wednesday in North Springfield said they came for several reasons.

Some people wanted the food in case they’re laid off or see already-tenuous financial situations deteriorate further.

Others said the food is needed to feed families and the elderly, some of whom can’t afford to go to the grocery store or are too afraid to go out in public during the outbreak.

Jessica Kingsbury has children — two teenage sons — at home and has a mother who lives alone.

The Bellows Falls, Vt., resident lives off of Social Security and said providing for her family can be difficult.

“It becomes very expensive, so (the MREs) help,” she said while waiting in line.

Kingsbury said she also felt safer coming out and picking up aid than going to a crowded grocery store, saying it’s heartening to see the Guard members taking precautions and wearing masks.

“It’s scary. You kind of just want to stay home and avoid as many people as you can,” she said.

Meanwhile, Homer Parker was hoping to pick up meals for himself and several family members.

Parker, 54, was a laborer, doing everything from installing drywall to mowing lawns, before the pandemic and social distancing restrictions dried up work.

He said it’s now difficult to live off Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, benefits and the limited general assistance provided by the state.

“I’ve never seen anything like it in my life,” Parker, who lives in Brattleboro, Vt., said while taking a smoke break outside of his car. “It’s ruined the economy, it’s bringing people into hardship and there’s a lot of small businesses that aren’t going to make it.”

He added that the MREs are “definitely a help.”

Like others waiting for food, he was greeted at the end of the line by Staff Sgt. Daren Farnsworth, an Enfield resident.

“How are you doing today, sir?” he said at arriving cars, a smile just visible through his mask. “They’re just going to ask you a couple of quick questions.”

Drivers would then be asked to pop their trunks and were pointed in groups to a loading area. There, Guardsmen would ask how many people required food and begin hauling MRE boxes into car trunks and truck beds.

Farnsworth, who worked at an earlier MRE distribution in northern Vermont, said elderly people with no caregivers are particularly in need. Many, he said, haven’t been out of the house in weeks out of fear of contracting COVID-19.

The National Guard ultimately gave out 98,304 MREs, or more than 6,100 boxes, on Wednesday, according to spokesman Capt. Mikel Arcovitch.

The Guard gave out 112,000 meals at a similar event at an airport near Rutland on Friday.

Tim Camerato can be reached at or 603-727-3223.


The Vermont National Guard and Vermont Foodbank distributed 98,304 Meals Ready to Eat, or more than 6,100 boxes, in North Springfield, Vt., on Wednesday. An earlier version of this story understated the final number. 

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