World Learning and SIT partner with the Vermont Foodbank to feed the community

July 26th, 2021   |   SIT, Vermont

The Vermont Foodbank distributes boxes of food during an event on campus in April 2021.
The Vermont Foodbank distributes boxes of food during an event on campus in April 2021.

Across the United States, the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has caused a surge in need for food assistance, and Vermont is no exception. According to research by the University of Vermont, nearly 30 percent of Vermonters have experienced food insecurity since the beginning of the pandemic.

Organizations like the Vermont Foodbank, the state’s largest hunger relief organization, have ramped up efforts to expand food assistance in response to the increased demand. Vermont Foodbank CEO John Sayles says the organization has seen a 58 percent increase in people visiting food shelves across the state.

“The foodbank has doubled the amount of food that we’ve distributed, and the lines are still there to pick up that food,” Sayles says.

As the foodbank expanded its services, increased traffic and COVID-19 restrictions meant that some of its typical distribution sites in Windham County, Vermont, were no longer able accommodate these events.  

A line of cars waits to receive food at a distribution event on the World Learning and SIT campus in Vermont.
A line of cars waits to receive boxes of food at a distribution event on campus in April 2021.

Sayles explains it was important to find a regular distribution location in Brattleboro, one of the largest communities in the state. He says it is also important that the location feels safe and familiar to the community.

Meanwhile, World Learning and SIT’s typically lively campus in Brattleboro was quiet. Faculty and staff began working remotely in March 2020, and in-person programs had been moved online or rescheduled. Vermont’s Department of Public Safety identified the campus as a potential site for foodbank distribution events and before long, a new partnership had been established.

 “The Vermont Foodbank is a terrific organization doing immense good in our immediate community and across this state,” says Joel Colony, World Learning vice president for advocacy and external engagement. “We are deeply committed to our community and on finding ways support our friends and neighbors at this challenging time.”

Vermont Foodbank staff members check people in for a food distribution event.
Vermont Foodbank staff members check people in for a food distribution event on campus in January 2021.

Since its first event in September 2020, the campus has hosted 12 distribution events at which a total of more than 6,000 boxes of food have been given out to members of the community. For each event, the Foodbank manages the distribution logistics, while World Learning and SIT contributes the space on campus.

“There’s no doubt that the Vermont Foodbank does the heavy lifting during these food drives. They are the experts on this,” says Colony. “As host, we provide access to areas and facilities on campus and prepare campus for use, including proper traffic flow and snow removal when needed.”

Community members in need of food assistance pre-register online for a timeslot to pick up their food ahead of each event. Once they arrive on campus, foodbank staff and volunteers check them in and then load the boxes into the waiting vehicles. According to the foodbank, more than 500 boxes of food have been given out at each event. Although the contents vary each time, they include a mixture of fresh produce, pre-cooked meat products, and other non-perishable items such as canned soup.

Volunteers stack boxes during a distribution event on the Vermont campus in January 2021.
Volunteers during a distribution event on the Vermont campus in January 2021.

Sayles notes that working with World Learning and SIT was a natural fit for the Vermont Foodbank, as the two organizations have complementary missions that focus on “creating better communities.”

“It’s been a great partnership,” he says. “It’s been really helpful to leverage the resources of a great organization to help fulfill the mission of the food bank.”

The next event on campus will take place on July 29, with additional events scheduled in August and September. For more information, please visit the Vermont Foodbank website.