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In December, American novelist and philanthropist MacKenzie Scott made headlines when she announced $4.2 billion in grants to 384 organizations across the country. Unsolicited and unrestricted, the gifts focused on immediate support to people suffering the economic effects of the pandemic. The Vermont Foodbank received $9 million as part of the round, equivalent to the organization’s annual operating budget before COVID-19. But with one in three Vermonters experiencing food insecurity since the pandemic began—nearly double than at the height of the Great Recession—the cost of keeping everyone fed continues to grow.

At the Vermont Community Foundation, we wanted to understand how MacKenzie Scott’s incredible gift will impact food access in Vermont, and how charitable giving can continue to make a difference. In the briefing below, find answers to questions that may have crossed your mind:

  • Does the Vermont Foodbank still need support?
  • How does the Vermont Foodbank intend to use the gift?
  • How might MacKenzie Scott's $9 million gift influence your philanthropy?
  • What actions can you take right now to make a difference on food access in Vermont?

Does the Vermont Foodbank still need support?

Yes! As incredible as a $9 million gift is, it is less than ten percent of what the state typically receives in federal food assistance for low-income Vermonters annually. That said, it still creates significant opportunities for expanding food access in our state.

How does the Vermont Foodbank intend to use the gift?

MacKenzie Scott’s gift has given the Foodbank an opportunity to lay the groundwork for long-term solutions to hunger while addressing the unprecedented need for food stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic. Although it has only been three weeks since the announcement, the Foodbank has already started to outline a strategy for what the $9 million can support:

  • Sustain and reinforce the core work of feeding people—at record-levels. In addition to maintaining record-levels of food distribution, the Foodbank will have capacity to source more food from local farmers, participate in direct distribution to clients, advocate for policies that help people access food, provide resources to community partners, and evaluate its operations for how to continuously improve.
  • Expand community engagement work to improve services and programming. The Foodbank will put a greater focus on community listening and connecting directly with clients and partners to understand how to improve distribution methods and reach the most marginalized populations.
  • Innovate and think creatively. The Foodbank will invest in ideas and solutions that they never realistically considered before this. What does that mean? They don’t know yet, but they’re committed to doing so.

How might MacKenzie Scott's $9 million gift influence your philanthropy?

A single individual or gift—even of this magnitude—will not solve hunger. Addressing the root causes of hunger requires solving other systemic issues like poverty and racism through policy and significant public and private investment. But this gift—which the Foodbank considers a gift to Vermont that they have the honor and privilege of stewarding—can usher in an important moment in the fight against hunger.

MacKenzie Scott’s gift has provided the Foodbank a little bit of time and space to address immediate needs while also figuring out how to improve services and overcome barriers to food access moving forward. As the Foodbank invests time and resources into understanding how to improve their model, they will also be helping shift the conversation around hunger and poverty in Vermont and the nation more broadly.

Therefore, it is important to acknowledge the significance of this gift and the strategy it will support. But think of it like a leaky faucet: $9 million means you have put a bigger bucket under the faucet, but you haven’t fixed the plumbing. 

What actions can you take right now to make a difference on food access in Vermont?

  • Help the Foodbank harness this moment by continuing your support of their work. MacKenzie Scott’s gift has unlocked opportunity at a time of great need, and additional resources will only enhance the ability of the organization to address the root causes of hunger at this critical time.
  • Support Hunger Free Vermont and the Foodbank’s community partners. The Foodbank works closely with Hunger Free Vermont on education and advocacy and relies on its community partners to source and distribute food. The Community Foundation’s Philanthropic Advisors can help connect you to these organizations. Learn how to connect with them below. 
  • Learn about innovative programs helping address food access during the pandemic. Across the state, there is innovation happening to help feed neighbors in need, from Food Connects and Susu Collective, to Green Mountain Farm to School, Smokey House Center, Outright Vermont, and Community Harvest of Central Vermont. These initiatives often rely heavily on private donations and help close critical gaps in the food assistance system.
  • Consider your philanthropy in the context of the systems that create hunger, such as poverty and economic dislocation. Philanthropy helps prove effective models and advance strategies to protect people from the circumstances that make food access an issue in the first place.

The Vermont Community Foundation will be providing more guidance on food access throughout this year. Please click here to sign-up to stay informed. And for more information now, contact Jane Kimble at 802-388-3355 ext. 286 or to be connected with one of our Philanthropic Advisors.