Leahy, Sanders, Welch And Scott Announce Two Vermont Contracts For New Food Box Delivery Program

(FRIDAY, May 8, 2020) -- Senator Patrick Leahy (D), Senator Bernie Sanders (I), Representative Peter Welch (D), and Governor Phil Scott (R) Friday announced that two Vermont-based entities, the Abbey Group and Willing Hands, have been awarded contracts by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to serve Vermonters through the Farmers to Families Food Box Program.  The new federal program partners with regional and local producers to purchase fresh produce, dairy, and meat for distribution to food-insecure families.

As Vice Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Leahy played a lead role in negotiating authority for the program and including it in the Families First Coronavirus Response Act passed by Congress in March.  Leahy said: “I am so proud of the Abbey Group and Willing Hands for leading these successful applications, both of which are a true reflection of Vermont’s collaborative and resilient local food system.  Winning these contracts means that Vermonters will continue to feed Vermonters, and that our local farmers will have new ways of putting food onto our communities’ tables.  Earlier this week, I called Secretary Perdue to advocate for these outstanding proposals, and I’m eager to see them get to work in this uncertain time.

Sanders said: “Hunger in Vermont has skyrocketed since the start of this pandemic. It is critical that we provide healthy, local food to our most vulnerable. I am delighted to see that the Abbey Group and Willing Hands will be working with local farmers and processors to bring much-needed relief to Vermont families struggling with food insecurity. Senator Leahy, Representative Welch and I will do everything we possibly can in Congress to expand federal nutrition support. No one in America should go hungry during this devastating crisis.”

Welch said: “Thanks to the Abbey Group and Willing Hands, food from our local farms is on the way to Vermonters in need. These programs will bring fresh, high quality local foods directly to Vermonters and will offer a new way for our local farmers to sell their amazing goods. I continue to urge the Department of Agriculture to make more programs and funding available to our rural communities and producers to provide the support our agricultural economy needs during this crisis.”

Scott said: “I am proud to live, and serve as Governor, in a state where so many organizations step up to help provide healthy and nutritious food to those in need. These local efforts will support our communities by making food boxes available to the most vulnerable and helping our farmers and food producers provide safe food. This is a time when supporting each other and thinking creatively about how we serve are essential to restoring our economy and helping families in need.”

The Abbey Group, based in Enosburg Falls, will leverage partnerships across the state to purchase local products to combine with additional food items and assemble them into family-sized boxes for distribution to nutritionally-insecure Vermonters. The contract with USDA provides $5.4 million to distribute boxes between May 15 – June 30, with further contract extensions possible. The company said: “The Abbey Group is thrilled to have the opportunity to connect Vermont farms with Vermont families. This was a true Vermont team effort. We could not have done it without the collaboration of our local Vermont farms and agencies: The Vermont Food Bank, Vermont National Guard, Vermont Food Hub Collective, Healthy Roots Collaborative, Monument Farms Dairy, Thomas Dairy, H.P. Hood, Cabot, the Center for Agricultural Economy, UVM Dining Services, GLOBAL FOUNDRIES, Green Mountain Farm Direct, and especially Reinhart Food Service.”

Willing Hands Enterprises, a nonprofit in Norwich, will work in both Vermont and New Hampshire to serve families in the Connecticut River Valley, while sourcing products from local producers and processors, including artisan cheesemakers, who have lost sales due to the pandemic. USDA will award Willing Hands $40,500 to implement its food box proposal through June 30, with further contract extensions possible. Executive Director Gabe Zoerheide said: “Willing Hands is honored to be able to support both our local farmers and the growing number of families in need in our community. This program is in a perfect fit for our mission of reducing waste, supporting healthy eating and addressing hunger.”

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Press Contact

David Carle (w/Leahy), 202-224-3693

Keane Bhatt (w/Sanders), 202-228-6591

Lincoln Peek (w/Welch), 202-440-3340