by Bruce Edwards, Vermont Business Magazine A sober indication of how the pandemic has affected residents of Washington County is the assistance rendered by Capstone Community Action.
Capstone, one of five community action agencies in the state, provides food, housing and fuel assistance to disadvantaged Vermonters. It also operates a small business development program.
Capstone Executive Director Sue Minter said her agency has seen a dramatic demand for its services, especially in the area of food and housing.
“We created a whole command center and did a very significant provision of food,” Minter said. “At Capstone we’re actually preparing the food at our community kitchen academy.”
Minter said since March Capstone volunteers and its partners distributed over 81,000 meals to nearly 300 homeless people who have been sheltered at seven hotels during the pandemic.
Using federal CARES Act money, Capstone partnered with the Morse Block Deli to distribute meals to the homeless. She said the program was a lifeline for the deli and when that program ended Capstone used additional federal funding to start another meals program, Everyone Eats. The program provides home delivered meals to food insecure families, Minter said.
Another program partner is The Skinny Pancake.
Minter said Capstone’s food shelf is serving people who never needed to rely on a food shelf to meet their basic needs.
“There are very, very acute needs around food,” she said.
Capstone is also working to alleviate the homeless problem partnering with Downstreet Housing and Community Development.
Downstreet is working with landlords who might have units that are in need of repairs, Minter said.
“So some of the CARES Act dollars are going to rehab new apartments to bring new units online,” she said.
The agency, which also serves Lamoille and Orange counties, received 3,000 calls for utility assistance.
Minter said in Washington County Capstone helped 156 households pay their back utility bills.
Minter points out that without further federal assistance CARES Act money runs out in December.
The agency’s business program serves small businesses, many that didn’t qualify for direct federal assistance.
Minter said Capstone has used CARES Act dollars to award grants to many sole proprietors and independent contractors like hairdressers, waitstaff and pet groomers.
Statewide, the unemployment rate continued to decline.
In September, the unemployment rate was 4.2 percent compared to 4.8 percent in August, according to the state Department of Labor (seasonally adjusted).
The Barre-Montpelier unemployment rate fell to 3.2 percent in September from 3.6 percent in August (not seasonally adjusted); the Morristown-Waterbury rate fell to 5.1 percent to from 5.5 percent; and the Northfield-Waitsfield labor market unemployment rate fell from 4.1 percent from 4.6 percent.
The US Census Bureau put the county’s median household income at $62,108, higher than the statewide median of $60,076 (2018) and the US was $61,937 (Vermont ranked 23rd highest).
Bruce Edwards is a freelance writer from Southern Vermont.