September is a busy time at the Haven with a particular focus on food, food insecurity, and hunger. September is Hunger Action Month, the time that is set aside for focus on these issues and root causes in this country. It’s hard to believe that hunger is pervasive in America. But it is. The Census Bureau measures hunger annually and even in Vermont and New Hampshire, two of the wealthier states, one in eleven adults and one in seven children are food insecure.
The Coronavirus pandemic and the economic slowdown, resulting in loss of employment and income, have exacerbated these conditions tremendously. Research released in May from Feeding America estimates that the number of food insecure people in Vermont has increased by 46% because of job losses and economic disruptions. It is currently higher than at any point during the Great Recession, with children’s food insecurity being highest of all. These same projections in the Upper Valley, in both VT and NH, estimate that food insecurity has increased from about 10% of the population to 15%.
I can see this playing out when I visit the parking lot in front of the Byrne Community Center. This is the location of our tents to accommodate folks arriving at the Haven for our curbside delivery of food they can take home. My observation is that more people have been coming to the Haven since the start of the month. Lines waiting at registration or at the tent seem longer than they were in August. The data bears this out. Over the first three weeks of Hunger Action Month at the Haven, more than 1,400 households have visited the Haven for food. Last year, over a similar period there were 861 visits, a 66% increase.
With the end of the supplemental unemployment insurance payments in August and no sign of Congress extending these payments or providing other cash relief, many individuals and families are experiencing significant challenges staying ahead. The generous amount of food they can receive at the Haven Food Shelf can make a big difference in their lives, allowing other bills to be paid.
And we know that more people are arriving at the Haven who had never been here before. Many households that experience food insecurity do not qualify for federal nutrition programs and need to rely on their local food banks and other hunger relief organizations for support. Our volunteers who welcome customers to the Haven share that they’ve spoken with many more people who tell them this is their first time here and they had never expected to need our services. We received a note that other day that tells this story. She wrote “I’m a 71-year old widow who lives alone. A few years ago, I was working and able to donate to the Haven, not knowing that I would one day be on the receiving end. You’ll never know how much I appreciate the caring and dedicated people at the Haven. I thank you and pray for you and your caring, giving and loving hearts.”
As summer turns to fall and we look ahead to the cold New England winter we remain ready at the Haven to address the needs of our community. Our tents will be coming down next month, but we’re already working on plans to safely operate our Food Shelf by continuing our curbside delivery program. Right now, we’re anticipating ever larger numbers throughout the fall and winter. We welcome and count on your contributions of food, financial donations, and volunteer hours. We can’t do it without you.