The Story of ShiftMeals

When ShiftMeals launched in March 2020 we were responding to the acute shock of economic shutdown that closed all 10 Skinny Pancake locations, furloughed 250 employees and left perishable food to waste in walk-ins, pantries, and distributor warehouses. Overnight, we were collectively thrown into extreme economic uncertainty, plus….COVID.

The Skinny Pancake founder, Benjy Adler (he/him) was called to action. With the SP team, he asked, how in this crisis could we live up to our mission. What if we could pay our employees to keep the local food supply chain flowing by making and distributing free community meals?

Right away, the power of relationships came into play. A conversation with the Intervale Center led to conversations with High Meadows Fund and Vermont Community Foundation. Seed money was granted with Intervale Center stepping in as a fiscal sponsor and thought partner to The Skinny Pancake’s operations team. With that we called staff back to engage partners, figure out logistics, make meals, and let the community know!

Meals meals meals….thousands of meals were distributed through restaurant pop ups and food shelves. A call with the Vermont Foodbank led to more meals and more distribution sites. With a larger scale operation, we were proving a model that could work for other restaurants and communities. One conversation led to another and suddenly we were invited to present this concept to state lawmakers who quickly authorized funds launching what is now called Vermont Everyone Eats. ShiftMeals then partnered with Capstone Community Action, Healthy Roots Collaborative, and Intervale Center to manage the Everyone Eats programming across Franklin, Grand Isle, Chittenden, Lamoille, Washington and Orange counties.  

The pandemic and economic shutdown dragged on. Grocery store shelves were frighteningly empty. Food shelves were inundated. People needed food. Everyone needed human connection. We launched GrowTeams, a collective community gardening initiative, to empower individuals to reclaim their food sovereignty. Through shared land, tools, mentorship, and teamwork gardeners were able to exchange a small commitment of time for a weekly share of the harvest. 

It became obvious that we would not all be equally impacted by COVID. The inequities that shape our lives became painfully visible in who had access to food and safety and who did not. Gender, race, and class all became significant factors in determining how likely you were to survive this pandemic, mirroring the threats that lurk at the intersections of marginalized identities. In this context, two GrowTeam members Jaya Touma-Shoatz (she/they/he) and Zymora Cleopatra Davinchi (she/her) launched the ShiftMeals BIPOC Food Sovereignty Program in July 2020 with this proposal.

From the spring of 2020 to the winter of 2022,  here is what ShiftMeals accomplished with our partners:

  • Managed two Vermont Everyone Eats hubs distributing 1,000,000 community meals purchased from 100 restaurants. 
  • Hosted “A Force To Be Reckoned With”, a seven part webinar series honoring Womxn and Femme farmers, leaders, organizers, and activists  and their visions for a more resilient food system.
  • Supported anti-racist organizational development within The Skinny Pancake. 
  • Co-developed the BIPOC GrowTeam now known as Flying Fish Fellowship at Conscious Homestead.
  • Co-hosted 11 GrowTeam collective gardens with ongoing support for Vermont Garden Network’s Collective Community Gardening advocacy. 

In 2020, we opened our first ShiftMeals Team Meeting with this observation from Rebecca Solnit’s essay, The Impossible has Already Happened, What the Coronavirus Can Teach Us about Hope.    

When a caterpillar enters its chrysalis, it dissolves itself, quite literally, into liquid. In this state, what was a caterpillar and will be a butterfly is neither one nor the other, it’s a sort of living soup. Within this living soup are the imaginal cells that will catalyze its transformation into winged maturity. May the best among us, the most visionary, the most inclusive, be the imaginal cells – for now we are in the soup. The outcome of disasters is not foreordained. It’s a conflict, one that takes place while things that were frozen, solid and locked up have become open and fluid – full of both the best and worst possibilities. We are both becalmed and in a state of profound change.” 

The outcome of disasters is not foreordained.

ShiftMeals is a story of imagining together, trusting and encouraging each other into community creativity. May we continue this story so that many more visions will take flight.  Wherever the future brings us, we at the Skinny Pancake will continue to ask: Why eat local? Our answer: For the food S.C.E.N.E. – Security, Community, Environment, Nutrition, Economy.

More from the ShiftMeals archives:

Groove to the Hug Your Farmer concert fundraiser for Shiftmeals.

Watch the 7-part A Force to Be Reckoned With Webinar series

Read Jaya Touma-Shoatz – (she/they/he) and Zymora Cleopatra Davinchi – (she/her) proposal to launch the BIPOC Food Sovereignty Program
Learn about why everyone should join a collective community gardening

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