A message from Director of Food Programs and Finances Jennifer Fontaine and Food Shelf Manager Shannah Stone:
Good afternoon, everyone!
I would like to take a few minutes to update you on the food supply constraints the Haven has been experiencing over the past several months. I know volunteers, staff and customers are concerned about what is perceived as a lack of food available on our campus. I hope my email will help alleviate some of the concern and shed light on some of the issues we are facing. I know that you are aware we have been several weeks without a full-time driver, and that is affecting our ability to move product around. Our search is underway for Nate’s replacement, and we hope to have some news about that soon. You also probably feel the effect of the number of visitors coming for food increasing, as has the percentage of visitors receiving monthly food shelf orders. These two things impact us, both so do some other external factors.
For those of you who have been with us for a while, you may remember the overload of food coming in during 2020-2021 when the pandemic sent food producers scrambling to find places to accept their products. The glut of food, especially fresh food, was an amazing gift for organizations like the Haven, and in turn, the people we serve. As 2022 rolled in, we started to see business operations tighten, with companies focusing on their bottom line more closely and more need for their products in sales. More recently, Hannaford has been assessing their donation totals and making specific reductions in the volume of food they produce and purchase, to help with their bottom line. We saw a similar trend with the Vermont Foodbank. All through 2020 and 2021, most products from the Vermont Foodbank were given to us at no cost. In the Fall of 2022, the Foodbank returned to its normal operations, charging for most of their items. The amount and variety of product at the Foodbank also changed in 2022, due in large part to the business changes mentioned earlier in this note.
Some other changes that have occurred that are affecting our ability to obtain some products include the 2022 outbreak of bird flu, which was felt around the nation, but specifically affected us related to egg donations from NH and VT farmers. The shortage of eggs had sent the prices skyrocketing, and we have been unable to even find a source for purchasing them in bulk. Luckily, Willing Hands has secured a current donation supply of eggs, which is helping us greatly. Bread is another item that has become difficult to obtain at a reasonable price. Historically, we benefited from donations of bread from Pepperidge Farm and Freihofer. Sadly, both of those resources, who were giving us extra/close to sell by date bread, have stopped donating, as they simply do not have the product to give us. Freihofer has such a small amount of product in its outlet, it cannot sell to us either.
Now that I have told you everything that is affecting our product supply, here is the good news: Shannah and I are working on finding and cultivating new sources for these much-needed food items. We are working on bulk supplies of bread, eggs, and other dairy items. This will take time, but we will get there. In the meantime, Shannah and I are looking at creative options for variety of product in our food shelf. We currently have a wonderful supply of cheese and have increased our purchasing of milk to meet the needs. We may also be making some changes to how we process and determine quantities of food — holding some back for later in the day to make access for customers more equitable. As we work through these steps, we will keep you informed and not make any significant changes without informing you.
Thank you for all that you do and if anyone has any questions, concerns, ideas, or just wants to talk, please know I am available.
Jennifer and Shannah