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Side Dishes: “meal Train” website makes giving easy

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In the Five Sisters neighborhood of Burlington’s South End, big events — wedding showers, new babies, surgery — often come with “meal trains.” That’s the term ’hoodies use for prearranged donations of food.

Dropping off a lasagna or a platter of peanut-butter cookies may seem like simple, old-style neighborliness — but it comes with logistics issues, such as keeping track of food allergies. “My wife was organizing a meal train,” says physical therapist Michael Laramee. “As she was going through the process of emails and phone calls, I thought, There must be an easier way.”

Enter an Information Age solution. Unable to find a ready-made program or online helper, Laramee got together with Stephen DePasquale, a programmer and old college friend, and filled the void. On January 24, the friends launched mealTrain.com, which promises to “simplify the process of giving and receiving meals.”

So far, says Laramee, the response has exceeded their expectations: “We’ve had over 50 meal trains created, and most of them are not in Vermont.” Visitors have come from all 50 states and 25 foreign countries.

Any trends? “What they sign up to bring sounds pretty good … especially in Chittenden County,” says Laramee. “Here they’re talking about organic vegetables and home-baked pizza. It’s not just your traditional [fare].” DePasquale recalls noticing dishes such as Ecuadorian heart-of-palm ceviche and Jamaican jerk pork with sweet potatoes and pineapple-lime slaw.

Eventually, Laramee says, it would be nice to turn the website into a business, but for now, the cofounders aren’t making a cent. “It’s to bring added value to the community,” he says. “We’re just excited to see people using it.”

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