West Glover's Parker Pie Co. is continuing to provide free meals to those in need in the community in the absence of state sponsorship by raising funds from local donors.

A long-time social gathering spot for the community, Parker Pie Co. was directly affected by the shutdown last year and as an eatery, they were positioned to help the community deal with food insecurity.

From October through December the popular pizza restaurant helped provide free meals in cooperation with the Vermont Everyone Eats program, which was grant-funded through state-disbursed CARES Act allocations.

"We worked with the Center for an Agricultural Economy (CAE) in Hardwick, which acted as a hub for organization and disbursement of funds," said Anne Eldridge, owner of Parker Pie Co., noting that several other local towns have organized similar efforts working with hubs such as CAE. "We also had help from many volunteers, working on various aspects of the program: outreach, web forms and social media, translation services, data reporting, deliveries of meals."

The grant funds helped cover the cost of goods, overhead, and payroll for Eldridge's 15 staff members and provided $10 towards each meal. The use of locally sourced ingredients also funneled funds into the community and now Eldridge hopes to do the same with funds raised from the community.

“The grant funding ran out December 30,” explained the entrepreneur turned philanthropist. “But we here at Parker Pie wanted to keep the program going. We've seen a strong need for these sorts of programs, especially in the last year. We figured let's just keep doing it; after all, we still have a commercial kitchen, a dedicated staff that cares about our neighbors, access to lots of local farms and food producers, and the support of our community to help fund it.”

“Towards the end of December, I talked to a lot of people in the neighborhood, including a group called Power of Persistence, composed of local ladies who have been meeting regularly on various community initiatives. We all felt confident that we could raise enough money to keep supporting the program in the absence of grant funds, so we started offering the meals again.”

Eldridge organized a GoFundMe campaign to raise $9,000, enough to fund 300 meals a week through the end of the month, using the online platform to accept donations from community members.

“We've had many generous donations come through outside of the GoFundMe campaign, and have raised over $4,000 in the last two weeks,” she said. “We've put out about 120 more community meals since January 6th, including continuing to supply the local Senior Center and Meals on Wheels org with meals each week."

Anyone is eligible to order the available menu items — Small Cheese Pizza, Small Greek Pizza, Small Green Mtn Special, Full Dave’s Special Salad, Full Chicken Caesar Salad, or Buffalo Chicken Nachos — without charge or restrictions by calling the pizza shop at 525-3366 and mentioning the program.

Eldridge foresees Parker Pie reinstituting the regular Wednesday meals the business was providing last year, which she expects to increase the number of meals being produced by another 100 to 180 meals per week.

Eldridge expects grant funds to be available again soon but said in the meantime they have enough donated funds to maintain the program for several more weeks.

"We don't have any hard deadlines or end game," she said. "Basically we'll keep putting out as many free community meals as are requested, for as long as we can and there is a need, and utilize grant money again when the private donation funding runs out. If we end up with more funds than we need to fulfill meal requests, we'll start looking at other ideas in the same vein."

As Parker Pie Co.'s humanitarian undertaking to benefit the community has flourished, various ideas have been floated about how to carry the idea forward.

"We've talked about possibly donating food or ingredients to the Senior Meals Program," said Eldridge, "Starting up a small local food shelf of some sort, basically whatever we can make work that also addresses food insecurity and uses our resources to put out free meals for our neighbors.

"We'd particularly like to address certain populations that tend to be more vulnerable to food insecurity," she said. "The elderly, homebound, migrant farmworkers, children who are not currently in school and receiving meals there, etcetera.”

More information can be found at the business's website: www.parkerpie.com/community-meals