Every two weeks for the last two years, a group of eight civically and faith-minded community leaders meets for breakfast at Trader Dukes. They discuss their roles and the needs of South Burlington, and how they can help their neighbors.
Their next project is designed to fill a glaring need in South Burlington: establishing a food shelf.
“South Burlington is the second-largest city in Vermont, and we don’t have a food shelf,” said Patrick Laduc, “and we have food insecurity here.”
The Seed of an Idea
Leduc said the bi-monthly breakfasts at Trader Dukes (with a stint at the Holiday Inn during renovations at the hotel) offer the group a chance to brainstorm and support each other as they navigate their roles in their communities and at work.
They also talk about ideas for helping others, and about six months ago, the food shelf idea was born.
“We’re kind of go-getters and we tend to want to do things,” Leduc said of the group. “We just decided we needed to take action.”
Towns and cities all over Vermont have food shelves, non-profit organizations that collect and provide canned goods, paper products, and even fresh fruit and vegetables for individuals and families in need with food insecurity. The food shelves occupy church basements, former storefronts, and other available spaces on Main Streets all over the state.
The Chittenden Emergency Food Shelf in Burlington is one of the largest in the state and has been feeding Vermonters since 1974. It is a program of the Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity, and is a member agency of the United Way. The Chittenden Emergency Food Shelf feeds 12,000 people a year.
Leduc said his leadership group did some research and spoke to people at the Chittenden Emergency Food Shelf, the Vermont Food Bank, and in South Burlington schools not only for ideas but also to assess need.
“Between the three elementary schools in our district, over 20 percent of students receive free or reduced lunch,” he said.
The percentage of students in a school who are income-eligible for the federal Free and Reduced Lunch Program is a benchmark used to determine socio-economic disadvantage and food insecurity. A higher percentage of free and reduced lunch students generally indicates a higher percentage of economically disadvantaged families with food insecurity.
In fact, the breakdown of the percentage of students receiving free and reduced lunch in South Burlington schools is as follows, according to the Vermont Agency of Education’s 2018 Free and Reduced Eligibility Report:
Rick Marcotte Central School
Frederick H. Tuttle Middle School
South Burlington High School
Statewide, just over 41 percent of all students attending public school in Vermont received free or reduced lunch in 2018, roughly 36,270 students.
Leduc said the group then reached out to leaders in the South Burlington faith community.
“Once we realized we were serious, we reached out to people who would care about this topic,” Leduc said. “And we reached out to all the different faith leaders and had a meeting. We invited about 30 people and we had 45 people show up. It was an army of the willing.”
Leduc said they shared the problem at hand, who they were and what they were trying to do, and then listened to what others thought, their thoughts and concerns.
“The most important aspect of this for us is maintaining dignity,” Leduc said. “Whatever we do, we must make sure that it is a dignified experience for all we serve.”
The larger group created a list of possible models and delivery systems and asked the faith leaders to go back to their church communities with the information and discuss the idea with their parishioners and church members.
The next phase was organizing another meeting to discuss with the stakeholders how they wanted to participate in creating the food shelf, whether it be financial assistance, providing volunteers, gathering and delivering food donations, or working on setting up the space. That meeting happened on Dec. 18.
Leduc said the group has a potential space for the South Burlington Food Shelf, but it is too early to confirm it or name it. In the meantime, the South Burlington City Council voted last month to give the future food shelf $2,000 toward start-up costs. Leduc said a few others have donated money as well.
In the meantime, Leduc said his group is trying to reach out to South Burlington residents who need and would use a food shelf in the city.
“We want to ask them how we can help and what they need,” he said. “Let’s get some food in their stomachs and go back and figure out why they’re hungry.”
Now there is also a video being made to post on social media to get the word out about the planned food shelf in South Burlington to engage residents and volunteers and to raise money for the cause.
Leadership and Faith
Leduc is well-known in South Burlington circles in particular and Chittenden County in general. He is chair of the South Burlington Library Board, and is vice-president in charge of career and education outreach at Vermont Student Assistance Corporation in Winooski. He is a husband and father of two girls, and an active member of the Knights of Columbus and St. John Vianney Catholic Church in South Burlington. He is also in the lay ministry program with the Vermont Catholic Diocese, designed to nurture leadership roles within a parish community.
Other members of the group include Howard Center Behavioral Health Clinician Doug Bugbee,
Social justice advocate and entrepreneur Hal Colston of Partnership for Change, Mt. Mansfield Media Owner and Creative Director Jake Cunavelis, South Burlington City Manager Kevin Dorn, Deputy City Manager Tom Hubbard, and South Burlington School Superintendent David Young.
“We all occupy informal leadership roles in our community or at our work,” Leduc explained. “We’re all people pretty involved in our faith as well. We talk about leadership and accountability and how those things align and how sometimes they don’t. We have breakfast and talk about those things and how we navigate that, how to be who we want to be as leaders.”
Once the funds and location are secured for the food shelf space, Leduc said the work will begin to fit the space with shelving, refrigeration and other necessities, as well as volunteers. He said if all the pieces fall into place, South Burlington will have a food shelf.
“I think if we can get enough commitment from people about volunteering, as well as food, we can get a commitment to the space,” he said. “We’re talking to folks about donating funds, maybe starting a Kickstarter fundraiser.”
Leduc said the breakfast group is comprised of faith-influenced leaders, not leaders with an agenda other than helping their community.
“We influence organizations because of our faith,” he said. “But ultimately, we’re just trying to be the people we’re meant to be.”
To volunteer or donate to the planned South Burlington Food Shelf, contact Patrick Leduc at 802-598-4246, or email email@example.com.