Upper Valley Strong organizations rally to assist food shortage caused by shutdown

Valley News Staff Writer
Saturday, February 09, 2019

WHITE RIVER JUNCTION — Upper Valley Strong is a group that coalesced more than seven years ago to help victims of the devastation wrought by Tropical Storm Irene. Now they’re turning their attention to those affected by the government shutdown.

The coalition of community-minded organizations has rallied to raise $32,500 for grocery gift cards and is encouraging donations to Vermont and New Hampshire food banks and other collection agencies to help families who could face food shortages later this month.

The problem stems from the early issuance of February’s allotment of federal Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, or SNAP, benefits, which were sent to families nearly two weeks early because of the likelihood that funding would be unavailable if the shutdown continued, according to Michael Redmond, executive director of the Upper Valley Haven, a member of Upper Valley Strong.

Individuals and families who receive food security assistance from SNAP, formerly known as the food stamps program, received money for February on Jan. 20, but the next round of funding is slated to be distributed as originally scheduled — on March 1 in Vermont and March 5 in New Hampshire, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

This could cause many families to face significant food shortages during the last several weeks of February, Redmond said.

“Upper Valley Strong was first formed to assist people from the effects of natural disasters. The shutdown was a manmade disaster, but it’s still our job to respond,” Redmond said. “When most people think of the problems caused by the shutdown, they think of the government workers who were affected, and rightfully so. But, of course, other populations are also being affected by it, including those who rely on benefits that were unable to be processed on schedule.”

The gap between benefits could be especially challenging later this month, when school districts throughout the region will have February vacation. Hundreds of students in the Upper Valley who are on free or reduced-price lunch and breakfast programs at school won’t have access to those meals, Redmond noted.

To help with the situation, the more than 20 Upper Valley Strong organizations — which include Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, Vital Communities and Twin Pines Housing — involved in Upper Valley Strong raised $32,500 through emergency grants and private donations to provide $50 grocery gift cards to nearly 700 food-insecure children. The fundraising effort was completed on Friday, and the gift cards will be distributed to students this week, Redmond said.

Additionally, U.V. Strong member organizations are working to encourage increased donations to state food banks, which provide items to food shelves such as The Haven — Vermont’s second-largest recipient of food bank distributions, according to Redmond — and have asked grocery stores to help generate donations from shoppers through purchases of special food boxes and collection boxes.

The organizations also are increasing public outreach to be sure food-insecure families are aware of resources such as community dinners at Listen centers in White River Junction and Canaan.

Barbara Farnsworth, manager of community health improvement at Dartmouth-Hitchcock, helped galvanize the effort and has been pleased with the response.

“The collaboration of all these organizations has been wonderful to see, and I think it’s leading to some great results,” she said. “It’s something that many of us saw coming, because even when SNAP benefits are released on schedule, it’s difficult for families to make them last the entire month.”

For more information, visit uvstrong.org or uppervalleyhaven.org. A list of community food shelves can be found at www.vnews.com/Upper-Valley-Food-Shelves-1164482.

Jared Pendak can be reached at jpendak@vnews.com or 603-727-3216.