Rutland Community Cupboard – AnEssential Humanitarian Resource

“Give what you have. To someone, it may be better than you dare to think,” said Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

Many Killington-area residents and visitors are familiar with a popular fundraising event for the Rutland Community Cupboard (“the Cupboard”) that features local luminaries volunteering their time and talent as “Celebrity Servers” — i.e., waitstaff — at a local restaurant. Last December, the multi-evening event attracted hundreds of diners to the Southside Steakhouse as the “celebrities” one-upped each other to earn the highest tips on the Cupboard’s behalf.

The event itself is a marvel, but the essential work of the Rutland Community Cupboard itself bears spotlighting, as does its cheery Executive Director Audrey Bridge. The following is a snapshot of this organization’s humanitarian work, why it’s crucial that it receives ongoing support, and a list of straightforward ways people of all ages and abilities can contribute.

The Rutland Community Cupboard is a 25-year-old 501c3 nonprofit that accomplishes extraordinary feats in alleviating food insecurity in the Rutland region. Staffed almost entirely by volunteers, it serves about 500 families and nearly a thousand individuals each month, including children and seniors. Individual donations fund 100% of its operating expenses, and its paid staff consists solely of Bridge and one part-time employee, working with an illustrious group of board members.

In Rutland County, 1 in 4 people struggle with hunger on a regular basis — a struggle made even more untenable by the Covid pandemic. Individuals faced with low income and job loss, illness, and lack of health insurance, for example, rely on the Cupboard for part of their food supply.

Bridge became executive director in 2022, after 15 years as the director of a Ludlow food-shelf organization. In a recent video interview her beaming smile and gracious demeanor never wavered. The daughter of native Vermonters, Bridge was born in Connecticut, where her family lived for a while before returning to Vermont. She graduated from Woodstock High School, where she first met her husband; they’ve been married 38 years.

When I commented to Bridge that 15 years at one charity is a long tenure for any nonprofit leader, her reply exuded New England positivity: “I’m like a barnacle when I’m happy!” she exclaimed.

Becoming serious, Bridge added, “Helping people who are hungry is the most essential work. It is so important not only to the people we serve every day but to the community overall. Contributing to my community makes me very happy.”

In an email, Jeff Weld, director of communications at Casella Waste Systems, Inc., and longstanding board member of the Cupboard, confirmed that Bridge’s direct experience in running a similar organization made her a top candidate for the executive director post.

“Through further discussions it became clear that Audrey was highly focused on delivering on the core mission of the Cupboard, on ensuring those who need food in our community do not go without,” Weld wrote. “She has really excelled in engaging our customers, our volunteers, and our board.”

He added, “We operate with minimal overhead costs and that means that more of the money we raise goes straight to purchasing food and getting it out to the community efficiently. The need has doubled year-over-year, food costs have risen, and our organization is uniquely positioned to meet those needs thanks to Audrey, our volunteers, and our board.”

Asked when the Cupboard experiences its greatest need, Bridge noted that the hardest times are summer and early fall, because people tend to give to nonprofits more in late fall — which is when everyone else is also fundraising.

In fact, there are many ways community members can contribute to this essential nonprofit any time of the year, such as: conducting a food drive at their workplace or in their neighborhood; hosting a fundraising house party; obtaining products for stocking shelves; donating in honor of a loved one or setting up a planning giving fund. (Tax deductible donations can be sent directly to The Community Cupboard, 65 River Street, Rutland, Vermont.)

Of course, the Cupboard always needs volunteers. 

“Volunteers are the ones that literally do the heavy lifting, unloading pallets, and doing other helpful tasks,” said Bridge. “We have Cub Scouts packing food for us, and we would love to have high school students volunteer too.”

The annual Celebrity Server event raises operating funds as well as generating awareness. Servers — who include CEOs of publicly traded corporations, physicians, attorneys, accountants, HR directors, utility executives, nonprofit leaders and educators — dutifully enlist their families, friends, and colleagues to reserve tables at Southside Steakhouse for their designated evenings. Last December’s event raised $32,000, with Casella Waste Systems Inc. CEO John Casella, Sr. reportedly generating the highest tally.

“We have been blessed with a consistent core of people who are willing to step up and help through the years,” Jeff Weld acknowledged. “It’s a high-energy evening with positive sentiment from the diners, the servers, and the staff at Southside. We’ve seen servers do pushups, serenade diners, and even tango to help grow their tips.”

The Rutland Community Cupboard transcends the traditional notion of a food pantry. Donors and volunteers who support the Cupboard are helping to strengthen an essential humanitarian resource, one that plays a crucial role in bolstering vulnerable populations, fostering resilience, and generating immeasurable social good.

Bridge makes sure all volunteers abide by rules of confidentiality, that if they know someone getting food from the Cupboard, they must not divulge that information to anyone.

It’s the type of charity that evokes the essence of Longfellow’s immortal words: “Give what you have. To someone, it may be better than you dare to think.”

For more information:

Liz DiMarco Weinmann, MBA, is principal and owner of Liz DiMarco Weinmann Consulting, L3C, based in Rutland, serving charitable and educational institutions:

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