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Sugarsnap’s Emergency Feeding Operation

by Abbey Duke, Founder & CEO

We recently received a voicemail  that has given me perhaps more satisfaction than any other feedback I’ve gotten in my 16 years of running Sugarsnap. 

The anonymous caller, who is currently living in one of the hotels where we are delivering meals, phoned to thank us for providing “quality food that tastes good.”  He continued, “I just wanted to let you all know that there’s someone out there that appreciates what you do every day. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.” 

I have listened to this voicemail multiple times. I played it for the whole Sugarsnap Team.  It really goes to the heart of why I am happy and proud to go to work every day.  And now, if I ever start thinking whether the work that we do really matters in the grand scheme of things, I will return to this voicemail. I will remember that we are in the business of taking care of people and bringing people comfort, sustenance and joy. That is the core of hospitality.  And when we do our work well and with care — even large scale production work — our guests know. 

Joe and Sam package ready to heat dinners: chicken, rice & veggies; mac & cheese with ham & peas.

Like many, many businesses, Sugarsnap has been dramatically impacted by the pandemic. And we have adapted and worked hard to stay in business and be useful. The pace of change and adaptation has been dramatic.  Luckily, as caterers we are used to adapting and making things work even in the face of obstacles.

Sugarsnap is now functioning primarily as a large-scale food production company providing emergency relief. We have a contract with the State of Vermont to provide 3 individually packaged meals each day to all of the people in Chittenden County that the state is housing in local hotels. Right now, that is about 400 people — meaning 1200 meals each day. Many of these people were living at homeless shelters before the pandemic. Or, they have lost their housing since.  Read this story from Vermont Digger to learn more about the program.

Mid August 2019 versus 2020

I looked back at what we were doing last year at this time. And from Aug. 19 to Aug. 25, 2019 we catered the following: 

  • 22 Drop off and pick up orders (primarily business lunches) 
  • 3 multi-day retreats at Rock Point Center 
  • 1 Sweet Sixteen party at the Intervale Center 
  • 1 multi-day non-profit retreat at the National Guard
  • 1 corporate dinner at ECHO 
  • 1 wedding at ECHO 

The same week this year is a bit different. Here is what this week looks like: 

  • About 8400 individually packaged meals delivered to 12 hotels over the week 
  • Six days of dinner delivered to a dormitory in Burlington 
  • 2 Drop off orders for small groups 

The Sugarsnap Team has been amazingly positive, resourceful and adaptable through all of it.  Initially they were a bit daunted by the prospect of packaging that many meals a day. The first few days were challenging, but they did not waver, and by the end of the week they were dialed in. 

Meg packages lunch! Digger’s Mirth greens, Sugarsnap Farm cucumbers, veggies, Cabot cheddar and housemade hummous.

What About Events

We are also now starting to — with many precautions — provide catering to events. We have catered four small weddings so far and we have a few more coming in the fall.  But we are being cautious and following all of the guidance from the state. 

What Will the Future Bring?

I am so fortunate that my business is doing well. For now, the state contract keeps us fully operating. We have cash reserves to weather the rest of 2020 and 2021. We have a lot of business booked for 2021, and we are ready to adapt to whatever happens.

As we all know, the future is uncertain. But I am confident that Sugarsnap will come out of the pandemic a stronger and more resilient business. 

There are many reasons for this and I have a lot to be thankful for. This includes:  great customers; a dedicated, skilled staff, tremendous suppliers and vendors, helpful SBA and state of Vermont programs; and state contracting decisions.

But at the core of of all of it is that in business — as in life — relationships are key. We really are all in this together. 

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