Weinberger Courts Donors to Boost United Way Relief Fund | Off Message

Weinberger Courts Donors to Boost United Way Relief Fund


Bottom left: Mayor Miro Weinberger - SCREENSHOT
  • Screenshot
  • Bottom left: Mayor Miro Weinberger
The United Way of Northwest Vermont's new coronavirus relief fund got a major boost Thursday thanks to four major donors courted by Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger.

The mayor was able to round up $85,000 for the fund, which will help organizations that support families and communities impacted by COVID-19.

The first recipient is the Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity and, specifically, Feeding Chittenden, one of three food shelves operated by CVOEO that distributes nearly 2 million pounds of food every year.

The lead donors include the Pomerleau family of Vermont real estate and philanthropy fame; Roxanne and Russ Scully, developer of the Hula tech campus and Burlington Surf Club founder; and Laura and David Stiller, son of Green Mountain Coffee Roasters founder Robert Stiller. Each donated $25,000.

An additional $10,000 came from Spruce Mortgage, whose founder and CEO is Gene Richards, whom Weinberger appointed director of aviation at Burlington International Airport in 2013.

"This is a challenging time to be giving money when there's so much financial uncertainty and so much turmoil happening in the world," Weinberger said during a virtual press conference Thursday. "It is reassuring to me ... that these philanthropic leaders for our community have come through for the community once again."

The United Way launched the fund this month in collaboration with the city of Burlington and other community partners with a goal to raise $125,000. As of Thursday evening, 56 donors had raised more than $107,000.

Feeding Chittenden director Rob Meehan said the food shelf has seen a 30 percent increase in demand as more Vermonters have lost jobs in recent weeks. Many people are visiting for the first time, he said.

Food shelf staff are now delivering food to homes and are operating a curbside pickup for meals and groceries. Employees of Feeding Chittenden's cooking academy have fanned out to bring 400 meals a day to four area emergency shelters, Meehan said.

"It’s heartwarming beyond recognition, but it’s also vital and it’s a critical need in this moment,” he said.
CVOEO executive director Jan Demers said the nonprofit's other programs have also pivoted to help people in need. Many workshops are now conducted via webinar, including those for small businesses and renters, she said.

CVOEO is also helping establish a "congregate recovery center" where COVID-19 patients can receive medical and mental health care, Demers said. She didn't disclose the location but said it could be operational within a week.

Weinberger cheered this development, saying Chittenden County needs an isolation center "to properly fight this virus, to properly contain its spread and to get the right care to people suffering from the virus in the days ahead."

Weinberger also said the city continues to respond to Gov. Phil Scott's stay-at-home order that went into effect Wednesday evening. The mayor announced Thursday that construction projects in the city, both public and private, will cease unless they directly support COVID-19 emergency response efforts.
Stopped projects include work on City Hall Park, the Moran plant and the already-stalled CityPlace Burlington development. Weinberger is scheduled to talk with representatives of that project's owner, Brookfield Asset Management, on Thursday.

"I don't know right now what the impact is or if there's any impact at all," he said.

The mayor also announced that Burlington is slated to receive $450,000 in Community Development Block Grants as part of Vermont's share of the $2 trillion relief package approved by the U.S. Senate on Wednesday night.
Burlington will funnel that money into loan and grant programs for businesses that employ low- and moderate-wage workers, according to Luke McGowan, director of the city's Community and Economic Development Office.

The city now has "the federal guarantee of the support we need to get that money back into the community," McGowan said.

Weinberger said the relief is welcome, but he expects that the city, and the nation, will need more in the days and weeks ahead.