MIDDLEBURY, Vt. — A group of Middlebury College students has created an unusual program that sells high-quality food, including meat and produce, to locals at a fraction of the cost for the same products at a supermarket. It’s not free, it’s separate from area food shelves and there are no income restrictions, but the group sells its products through area community organizations and churches, aiming for a clientele that doesn’t always eat, or know how to prepare, healthy meals.
Each of the boxes the group sells contains enough food for a family of four for a week and a number of healthy recipes. The cost is $35.
“The stuff that’s in the box is good. It’s real good stuff,” said Wilma Hallock, 82, of Lincoln, who heard about Middlebury Foods while visiting HOPE in Middlebury and picking up food for her and her husband. “You can make quite a few meals out of that.”
One of the organizers, Harry Zieve-Cohen, a Middlebury junior from New York City who is majoring in literary studies, noted that it provides “supermarket-quality food at fast-food prices to Vermonters who have a hard time purchasing food and getting by day-to-day, who face challenges.”
“We’re giving them an opportunity to have healthier food on their tables and to be healthier people and be happier,” he said, “and have more time on their hands because they don’t have to go to the grocery store as much.”
The idea for Middlebury Foods came from Top Box Foods, a Chicago nonprofit founded by Christopher and Sheila Kennedy. Christopher Kennedy Sr. is the chairman of the board of the University of Illinois Chicago, and the son of Robert F. Kennedy Jr. He and his wife, Sheila, are the parents of one of the Middlebury students, Chris Kennedy Jr.
The 2-year-old Chicago group distributes foods through city churches in what the organization considers the city’s food deserts, said Top Box Executive Director Sheila Kennedy.
But beyond the idea, Middlebury Foods is a creation of the students.
Former Vermont Gov. Jim Douglas, the executive in residence at Middlebury, was on a college committee that provided a $3,000 seed grant to Middlebury Foods. Since the grant was awarded in March, Douglas has kept in touch with the students to see how the project is going.
“What struck me is that it addresses a compelling immediate need,” Douglas said of Middlebury Foods. “There were other great ideas for businesses, products and services of various kinds. I hope all the competing groups succeed, but as we continue to struggle to come out of the Great Recession, it seemed to me and the other judges that this is something to which we need to devote whatever resources we can.”
They expect business to take off once their approved to take electronics benefits, commonly known as food stamps, which they’re expecting next month, said Nathan Weil, a junior from Nyan, Switzerland.