The traffic jams that formed outside “Farmers to Families” food giveaways around Vermont weren’t quite this bad, but they were bad. Embarrassing, appalling, a sign of exactly how much food insecurity exists in our great (but not as great as we like to think) state.
Well, last week, the state found an answer. If you can’t find enough food for your people, at least prevent them from creating a public spectacle. This week, in advance of scheduled food drops in Middlebury (Wednesday), Brattleboro (Thursday) and Morristown (Friday), the state Emergency Operations Center switched to a registration system. You can’t just show up; you have to sign up in advance for specific time slots.
This is definitely a service to those who might otherwise wait in line for hours, their cars idling away throughout. But it also eliminates the politically charged images that have resulted from past giveaways. News coverage, if any, will be focused on grateful recipients and hard-working volunteers rather than the desperation of food-insecure Vermonters or the unprecedented demand on our system of charitable food distribution.
Those pictures were, again, unfortunate for all involved. But they made an undeniable point — underscoring the need for more resources. This, at a time when state anti-hunger organizations are warning that the system could collapse without a fresh infusion of state aid.
Also, those applying for a time slot must fill out a brief questionnaire, reproduced below.
The state offers this rationale for the questionnaire: “Your answers will help inform future decisions and help the state and its partners better prepare for on-going needs.”
Mm-hmm. Not stated is if officials will do any screening based on responses. Even if not, the requirement could certainly have a chilling effect on, say, undocumented Vermonters or those involved in legal entanglements of one kind or another. Given recent Adventures in Crime-Fighting by, for instance, the Department of Motor Vehicles, there may be lots of people who’d be willing to sit in a long line, but might balk at giving identifying information to a state agency — including a commitment to arrive in a certain place at a certain time. (Each registrant is given a 15-minute window to arrive at the distribution site and pick up their food.)
Either way, lots of folks are willing to cooperate with the registration process. As of 2:00 p.m. Thursday, the Morristown event was filling up quickly, and some slots were fully subscribed for Monday’s distribution in Lyndonville.
But whether or not there’s enough time or enough food for all those in need, we do know one thing: We won’t see any more pictures of Vermonters waiting for hours on end to get a free box of food.
Definitely a chilling effect.
But hey it sounds inclusive if you have access to email.
There is certainly need of organization for efficiency, but it doesn’t have to exclude many of the most in need through intrusiveness. Perhaps the registration could have run through local food banks to organize participants in group pick-ups as vetted by the food bank rather than by the agency behind these registration forms.