Food (In)security: Keeping food flowing provides connection to people and other helpful resources; offering more than we may ever know.
As with all the Designated Agencies in Vermont, when the pandemic began to impact the communities we serve, the Clara Martin Center recognized that individual needs beyond mental health and substance use services were becoming more acute. Increased support was necessary to assist the people to access resources and address holistic needs.
There can often be roadblocks for individuals who seek to improve their access to nutritious food. Many individuals may not know what programs exist in their area, how to initiate services with a food-provision program, and what contact will look like once it begins. To help community members in need locate assistance, the VT Foodbank provides a list of regional distribution centers at www.vtfoodbank.org.
An additional roadblock is completing the required paperwork. Many food-insecure individuals struggle with the formalized collection of data – filling out forms and providing the required documentation to determine eligibility for assistance. An individual may know there are programs that could help them but feel unable to take the steps necessary to enroll. That is where the support of a case manager at Clara Martin Center can be effective in helping individuals complete any needed paperwork and navigate the steps together with a unified plan led by the client to meet their service goals.
“What I love to do is make connections for people. Once people know the resources, they are one step closer to fulfilling their need. Once a family signs up, I can pick up their food. This keeps us in touch and connected. Other families are excited to learn about the different options and obtain the food on their own. I enjoy watching people learn new skills while supporting their families,” shared Hoyt Bingham, Reach Up Case Manager.
There has often been a conversation of: “Let’s get that person some Everyone Eats meals,” and that has been successful – being able to deliver those meals and have somebody eat them who would otherwise have a challenging time doing that for themselves.
Tanya Croke, Generalist Clinician, Bradford Adult Outpatient Program, Clara Martin Center
Through the support of the VT Foodbank, the Clara Martin Center runs a small food shelf out of an agency site in Bradford, but also helps connect individuals with other local food banks or resources in the area. As opportunities were made available during the pandemic such as the VT Feeding Vermonters program, Vermont Foodbank’s VT Fresh grants, and Everyone Eats, Clara Martin Center was able to collaborate with local providers and expand our food shelf offerings. Per Lexi Sargent, Integrated Site Coordinator, “COVID-19 really changed a lot for us with our food shelf. It brought in grant money for us to expand to include some freezer and refrigerator space to our food bank. We now have frozen prepared meals from the VT Everyone Eats program which are a huge hit for folks and we established a weekly milk delivery from Berway Farms to have fresh milk available. We also brought food to many families in those first few weeks of COVID when many businesses were shut down and everyone was afraid to leave their homes and interact with others. Many families we brought food to were extremely appreciative of our ability to get food there.”
In rural areas of the state, access to resources can be an even greater challenge. Ashley Shepard, School Services Manager shared “One thing that has come up recently is the ability to physically access resources. Being that many of our clients live in very rural locations, they may be aware of community resources that they could access, but not have the transportation or gas money to get there. My team provides case management to client’s families regarding community resources that they can access and will help them do so if needed. They are also aware of any programs that the schools are running, so they can help to connect families with those if they aren’t already. During the holidays they referred families to Clara Martin’s holiday food basket program. One of my favorite days of the year was picking up the holiday food baskets and distributing them to the families that my team worked with. Families were always so appreciative, and it felt good to be able to provide them with a concrete, immediate way of meeting their needs, as progress in our work is so often long term”.
CMC Bradford Staff participating in the 6th annual Holiday Basket Program, which provided a meal for 150 families this December, through the support of fundraising and local donations.
As Demetra Hazatones, Regional Director, noted on the impact of the link between addressing food insecurity and mental health, “the stories of some of my Clara Martin Center colleagues I found personally moving. One knows that the interactions between agents of food security and community-members-in-need are the kind of real, significant assistance that means the most to those of us in social service occupations.”
Hoyt also encouraged the broader Vermont community, “Keep the food resources flowing. It does more than provide food security. It provides connection to other caring people and other resources that may be helpful. These food hubs offer more than we may ever know.”
Feeding America, a nationwide network of food banks that feed more than 46 million people, delves into the link between food insecurity and its effects on mental health as follows, “facing hunger can be stressful. Constantly worrying about where your next meal will come from can cause mental health problems such as depression, anxiety, and even posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The American Academy of Pediatrics revealed that mothers with school-aged children who face severe hunger are 56.2% more likely to have PTSD and 53.1% more likely to have severe depression. The inability to feed your loved ones can have traumatic effects on a person’s mental health”.
Hunger & Health, Feeding America Causes and Consequences of Food Insecurity | Hunger and Health (feedingamerica.org)
Hunger and food insecurity, or the lack of consistent access to enough nutritious food for everyone in the household to live an active, healthy lifestyle is an issue rising in the awareness of culturally-conscious citizens. It is well documented that hungry, malnourished children struggle more in school and can grow up with biopsychosocial issues. This makes life more challenging for these individuals, and as a result they may have more obstacles to overcome in order to contribute to the community.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture website, 89.5% of United States households are food secure, which makes 10.5%, or 13.8 million household’s food insecure. This level of food insecurity means that at various times throughout the year there was not adequate nutritional food for all household members. There is a still-worse level of food security however – those considered to be at very low food security. In these 5.1 million households, food intake is reduced for some household members, and normal eating patterns could not be maintained due to inadequate resources.
Children’s Health Watch – Identifying Hidden Food Stressed Families
Distributed by Clara Martin Center: Prepared food from Upper Valley Everyone Eats, the local hub of Vermont Everyone Eats, the statewide coronavirus relief program that pays Vermont restaurants $10/meal to prepare free, nutritious meals to Vermonters experiencing food insecurity.
This pandemic has hit everybody. For certain folks with depression, to even have a desire to eat is challenging.
Recent research conducted at the University of Vermont focused on the issue of food insecurity from the year 2020 to 2021. This study surveyed 441 Vermonters and tracked their responses to questions of food insecurity with the goal of understanding the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on this issue. During this time period, 31.6% of respondents were experiencing food insecurity. While roughly half of those respondents were food insecure before the pandemic, the other half were newly food insecure during the pandemic with approximately 18% of Vermonters experiencing food insecurity, up from 10% prior to the pandemic.
We must consider the importance and availability of public food assistance programs such as 3SquaresVT – also known as the SNAP program. In October, the SNAP program received federal support to increase its benefits by 25%, which while remarkable, is still considered to fall short of meeting the monthly nutritional needs of its beneficiaries. There remains a food gap, which is filled most frequently by food shelves and other forms of community provision, such as the aid provided by community mental health providers as we work to address whole person care.
Clara Martin Center services are available by calling (802) 728-4466, https://www.claramartin.org
Clara Martin Center’s programs serve children and families, and individuals coping with behavioral challenges, emotional stress, mental illness, alcohol and other drug problems. The Clara Martin Center provides a comprehensive array of community mental health services focused on community integration, coping, enhanced functioning and improved quality of life. Our agency is committed to providing quality services and extending its services to nearby communities to ensure a continuum of care.