More and more Vermonters can’t afford groceries by the end of the month. The paycheck isn’t enough. The food stamps won’t stretch. And they’re looking to community meals and food shelves for regular help. The trouble is, food shelves weren’t designed to provide sustainable food. They were set up for emergencies. For fires, for floods. But every day, an army of volunteers–mostly women between the ages of 55 and 70–hustle food from area stores and local farmers and the Vermont Foodbank….to feed people.
This is a show about what it feels like when you don’t have enough to eat.
“The fields were fruitful, and starving men moved on the roads.”
― John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath
Interview with Food Shelf Director Lisa Pitcher
Here is an unedited interview with Lisa Pitcher, the awesome Executive Director of Our Place, a community drop-in center in Bellows Falls, Vermont. She talks about the charitable food system in Vermont…how it works, and how it’s not working.
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Music for this show was made by the excellent Mike Donofrio
Thanks to Lisa Pitcher, Mark Davis, Judy Stermer, Tobin and Peter, Pam Smart, Sharon Fannon, Robin Bradley, Evie Lovett, and the great people who put on Monday lunches at the Unitarian Church in Montpelier, VT.
Too Much Month at the End of the Money is a country western song by Marty Stuart.
I know all of these people, not the ones being interviewed but their stories are the stories of people I know. I have been in homes when the refrigerator door was opened and it contained a 2 liter bottle of soda – that’s all. I was leaving a meeting at a site that had a very small food shelf and was met by two girls probably 8 and 10 and they were looking for food, not anything specific, just food. We have an economy based on part time jobs with minimum wage pay and the employers congratulate themselves on putting people to work. These are the people you interviewed. There are many people that explain this away by saying that these are free-loaders that spend their money on booze and drugs, they aren’t, they are like you and me, and yes I have been there.
I can’t get my head around how many different people were interviewed (seriously, this was a lot of time interviewing about intense and exhausting survival), and they shared deep vulnerability. Erica, your ability to listen and honor all people is laudable. I heard the diverse community of hungry people who could easily be customers at the East Calais General Store. “Everybody is a paycheck away from…”
This production was sobering, humbling, spellbinding and a display of reality through genuine and unique life stories sharing a common thread of survival skills. determination, ingenuity, resilience, responsibility, and compassion. Thank you to all involved. The rich humanity of the speakers should remind us of our connections and moral obligation to each other’s well being and happiness. These stories should teach us that when the sharp edge of circumstance cuts any of us down, there is something we each can and must do to heal the wound and recharge the spirit. My ride through this rumble strip surely did slow me down and made me appreciate the graces I’ve received from others in my life. Thanks.
Thank you for this heartfelt episode. Rumble Strip Vermont is an exceptional podcast.
Another excellent episode, Erica. You truly have a gift getting people to open up and sharing really delicate messages with grace.
I live in an up scale house with 5 apt. All the other apt. have been redone but I have Section 8 housing and very little has been done. My landlord has said more than once if I wasn’t there he would renovate my place and double the rent. This from a man who has ten houses and a business and goes to France for weeks at a time. I feel like a third world tenant among my neighbors, fix my own old cars and try to stay healthy. Retirement was not planned but I had to get my rt. shoulder rebuilt and lost my job at 62. Social Security provides me with $8,700 a year and you cannot ever have over $2000. total in savings with out penalties from the housing authorities and SS. I was borne with a blood disorder that is taking both my hearing and teeth. Even with all the benefits I just manage to hang on and hope my car keeps working. As another election cycle comes around I don’t feel there is anyone out there running for office who knows first hand what poverty is and can represent me. It seems that everything is slanted in favor of those with money to make more, who do not see that poverty is more than a full time job and think the poor are third class citizens without a voice, so why vote? Nothing seems to change for the better down here at the bottom.
Paul. Thank you for taking the time to write this…and your point about poverty being a fulltime job is really important. When there’s VERY LITTLE money, and social services/multiple foodshelves/community meals are necessary…these things require a tremendous amount of time. Survival without money in a world that runs on money is time consuming. I don’t think people understand this, and I’m grateful you took time to write about it. I guess my hope is that the show at least starts a few conversations. Thank you so much again. E
This story makes my heart ache. I wish i had money to give to everyone in this story. I find author Dave Ramsey’s ideas about The Four Walls to be helpful. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3_RX4gT20EM Ignore the creditors until the four walls are taken care of Food, heat and electric, Housing, Transportation. He is a wealth of information. My favorite cookbooks from the library might help too: More With Less by Janzen Longacre and What to Cook by Arthur Schwartz. It is hard work pulling together meals when money is tight, but worth the effort. A bag of lentils, carrots and an onion will go farther than Lunchables. and be much healthier.
Check out Good and Cheap by Leanne Brown. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X31BlH8Lqjs
free PDF of Good and Cheap : Eat well on 4 dollars a day at http://www.leannebrown.com 🙂
Cynthia, thank you for your response and these awesome suggestions. Really great…..
I managed a food pantry in our church in Lynn for 12, 13 years. Lynn is a poor city with a good-sized immigrant population. We got our food from the Boston Food Bank and other sources–just basic commodities, canned vegetables, fruits, some meat, some milk, peanut butter and other things. Soup and cheese. Very basic food, but not expired by the labels, anyway. We watched out for that. We opened every Friday for an hour and the people would come. A couple of times a year the Lynn postal workers would go out and collect food for the area’s food banks, and we would pick it up. This food was good in that it got us through the summers. We had a goal of providing two-three days of food a week for individuals, and slightly more for families with young children. I think we probably averaged 120 people or so a week. All they needed was to offer some sort of ID that showed they were Lynn residents. I never talked very much to the people, I always felt they just wanted to get their bags and leave, that it was embarrassing for them. So at the end of the time I only knew a very few people from the food line. Listening to your program, I so much wished that I could go back and change that! It turns out they are people just like us. Thank you!
powerful stories Erica. Now as we move into Trumpland these stories are even more important to tell. God help us all in these next four years–and those who struggle with food are some of the most vulnerable…
Another great one, Erica. Thank you for your selflessness in making these stories heard.
an excellent episode 🙂
Erica…I am so hooked on your podcast. I listened to a dozen of them this weekend. Your ability to produce crystalized stories from the spectrum of humanity with such earnestness is truly awe-striking.
I think we probably averaged 120 people or so a week. All they needed was to offer some sort of ID that showed they were Lynn residents. I never talked very much to the people, I always felt they just wanted to get their bags and leave, that it was embarrassing for them.