NEWPORT CITY – The freezers at four area food shelves are filled, thanks to Fran Azur and Melanie Gefert from the Vermont Highland Cattle Company. Last week the company donated a total of 3,000 pounds of a mixture of ground beef and select mixed cuts.
The Orleans Federated Church, United Church of Newport, Jay Food Shelf and the Northeast Kingdom Community Action in Newport, Island Pond and Canaan received the meat.
The meat comes from animals that were grass fed and locally raised. The meat is high quality and low in fat.
Highland Cattle Company has made similar donations for the past four years.
Steve Mason, from Northeast Kingdom Consulting, said area food shelves have stated that protein is not a frequent commodity for them.
“It’s a tough time for people,” said Mason, referring to the holiday season.
NEKCA said the meat would probably last about a month to feed about 1,000 families. The meat will mean a lot to many people as the organization typically receives non-perishable food. The company, in previous years, donated turkeys for area food shelves.
NEKCA officials said the need for assistance has doubled since last year. “It’s a great relief to have that support and donation,” said Joe Patrissi, executive director of NEKCA. “The Northeast Kingdom is full of wonderful people who help others, but it is also the poorest region in Vermont.”
The Northeast Kingdom, said Patrissi, has the highest unemployment rate, the highest poverty rate and the highest amount of people on benefits.
In Essex County, the number of people on food stamps increased over 12 percent, over four percent in Orleans County and over five percent in Caledonia County. Patrissi said that, so far this year, NEKCA has helped 9,000 households
“It’s way up from last year,” said Patrissi. “They’re alarming numbers. It shows people are hurting much more than before.”
Patrissi blames the numbers on a variety of things. For one, the price of fuel went up and benefits went down. He also said food stamps is an assistance program and does not pay for much. Patrissi said more people are losing their jobs.
“We’re seeing people we have not seen before,” said Patrissi.
Patrissi is concerned with the uncertainly of what Congress is doing. He said the President recommended funding the federal heating block grant at the 50 percent level.
“If people are just getting by right now, what are they going to do if they have even less to work with than what they have now?” asked Patrissi. He said most of the assistance programs are funded by the federal government. “Donations from the local community really become critical.”
“People are hurting and I am not sure how much further people can go, especially around heating,” said Patrissi. “That can be a real problem. The more people can help, the better we can help if things get worse than they are now.”