“It’s Brandon taking care of Brandon”

Brandon Area Food shelf, senior center seeing spike in need


BRANDON – Food shelves used to serve only our most vulnerable, but the definition of vulnerable has changed, practically overnight.

Non-essential businesses have been ordered to close, and many people are out of work indefinitely. Food shelves all over the country are seeing a spike in demand as the COVID-19 pandemic spreads and those living paycheck to paycheck find themselves in need of food for their families.

The Brandon Area Food Shelf is no exception. Since March 20, food shelf volunteers have delivered 150 boxes of perishable and non-perishable food and a $25 Hannaford gift card to households.

“In the last week, we have seen a tremendous increase in the amount of households who have food insecurities,” said Brandon area Food Shelf Executive Director Kathy Mathis. “The call comes in, we answer, and take the food to their houses due to the stay home order.”

The group behind Friday lunches at the Brandon Senior Center, from left, Kathy Mathis, Richard Russ, Mike Frankiewicz and Bob Smith. Curbside service is the new normal, and the number of people being served is growing every week.
Photo by Gini Smith

During calm and normal times when there is no global crisis, the food shelf serves over 200 households per month, on average.

The deliveries are made by volunteers Mike Frankiewicz, April Hutchins, Brian Coolidge, Tim Guiles, The Brownfields and Kathy Mathis. They in turn hand it off to volunteers Paul and Bonnie Hunt, Donna Doty, Theresa LaDuc, Marvel Herriman, Rachel Longeway, Margie Rousseau, Helen Hutchins, Deb Lamica, Charlotte Bishop, Joni Towne, and Rodney Fielder, who then distribute to those individuals on their list. The operation is a pyramid system where the food shelf can reach as many people as possible.

The Brandon Senior Center has also worked with the food shelf for many years, serving another sector of the community’s most vulnerable population, and Mathis is the executive director at the senior center as well. The Senior Center has served a free community brunch co-sponsored by the Southwest Council on Aging one Friday a month to anyone who walks in the door. That practice is continuing with a shift to a community lunch and curbside pick up. And in this time of crisis, the Senior Center has increased their lunch program to every Friday from 12-1 p.m.

“We normally serve 50-53 sit down lunches,” Mathis said. “With the coronavirus crisis, we began last week with 123 take out and last Friday served 150 curbside. The only thing we ask is their name and we give them a free lunch. We intend to continue this practice until we can re-open the center, sit down next to each other and share a meal and pleasant conversation.”

Patrons receives soup, a sandwich, a roll and dessert. The Senior Center lunches are staffed by Frankiewicz, who takes the names. Richard Russ and Bob Smith take the meals out to the cars and Gini Smith and Mathis do all the cooking and packaging.

Bob Smith also helps out with prep work in the kitchen.

Mathis wasn’t sure the center could handle the increased demand last week.

“I thought, ‘This is a lot more, can we do this?’ but we did 150, no problem,” she said. Mathis was asked how they managed.

“We just raided our freezers,” she said.

But that strategy won’t last. Mathis has community meals planned through May 1, and fully expects the need to grow. That’s where donations come in. Without the help of donations and volunteers, the food shelf could not function. Mathis said the Town of Brandon has increased its contribution to $700, and more donations are coming in from residents since the pandemic began.

“It used to be $25 here, $25 there,” she said. “Now, people are coming out of the woodwork. It’s Brandon taking care of Brandon.”

A history of helping others

The food shelf has always been a community-based organization totally funded by the generous donations of the local citizens.

The Brandon Area Food Shelf began in the 1970s and was affiliated with the Brandon Congregational Church. Distribution was done of the church basement, Mathis said.

“In the 1980s when I came on board, it was Harold Adams, Frank Sullivan and Sarah Pattis,” she said. “Folks would get a coupon for milk, bread and eggs from the Grand Union (now Hannaford).”

Now, patrons get Hannaford gift cards for those items. The food shelf picks up meat, vegetables, bread, bakery and deli items from the local Hannaford. They also offer fresh vegetables and fruits from local gardens and farms during the summer months on a first come first serve basis.

The Food Shelf offers peanut butter, tuna fish, pasta products, rice, tomato products, canned vegetables, canned fruit, soup, cereal, juice, baked beans, and dessert products.

Each year, the local schools, churches and the postal workers hold food drives, which nets the food shelf over two tons of food to keep the shelves stocked. During those tough times when items get low, cases of food are ordered from Hannaford.

In normal times, the winter months are especially hard on people, due to the choosing to pay heating and electrical bills over food bills. But the need grows in the summer months as well, as there is an increase in the number of families who need help feeding young children when there is no free breakfast and lunch programs at the local schools.  The issue is compounded by the fact that donations also decrease in the summer months, Mathis said.

The food shelf also puts together special Christmas and Easter food boxes each year for over 150 households, and Otter Valley Union High School students help with the hauling, assembling and distribution of the holiday boxes each year. Mathis said the majority of those needing assistance are the elderly and those homes with single head of household with children.

Donations, donations, donations

The food shelf is accepting donations of canned vegetables, canned fruit, crackers, peanut butter, canned soup, specifically chicken noodle, tomato and vegetable, canned tuna, mayonnaise, macaroni and cheese, pasta and sauce, canned chili, canned meat, cereal, rice, and toilet paper.

There is a caveat.

“Please don’t send us your four-year old stuff,” Mathis said. “It just makes more work for us.”

Monetary donations can be mailed to:

The Brandon Area Food Shelf, PO Box 345, Brandon, VT 05733

Food donations can be placed in the drop box outside the Brandon Town Office on Center Street between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m.

The Brandon Area Food Shelf will continue to adjust to this new, pandemic reality with the help of donations and volunteers. ‘Both the Brandon Area Food Shelf and the Brandon Senior Center would like to thank the folks of this great town for all their support in sharing with a hungry neighbor,” Mathis said. “You always have in the past, but in this time of uncertainty you have outdone yourselves. Bravo to you all!”

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