A Million Meals, A Million Thanks

One Million Meals. This Giving Tuesday, you helped us donate our millionth meal to the Vermont Foodbank. A million meals to people facing hunger, right in our own community. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Small Beginnings: 266 lbs. of Turkey

My name is Courtney, and I’m the Brand and Community Marketing Manager here at Darn Tough Vermont. Our relationship with the Vermont Foodbank began before my time here and has gotten stronger every day since. Our first donation was in 2003 and it was a donation of 266 lbs. of turkey. That’s so much turkey.

With the position I hold at Darn Tough, I have the privilege of working firsthand with nonprofits and other organizations that focus on education, fighting homelessness, supporting veterans, etc. Among these partnerships is the Vermont Foodbank, a partnership we knew we wanted to do more with.

It all started when we launched darntough.com in 2017 and committed to donating proceeds of Giving Tuesday to a cause we were interested in. The Vermont Foodbank stood out as a great partner.

Darn Tough employees packing up meat for the Vermont Foodbank

We knew the Foodbank to be an organization that valued what we value at Darn Tough, and this was a way we could provide food during a season where hunger is higher than ever, yet meals are the centerpiece of so much of our celebrations.

That first Giving Tuesday, you blew us away with your response, helping us donate over 35,000 meals to the Vermont Foodbank… to Vermonters in need.

One in Nine

This is where it gets personal for me though. We were so moved about the impact of our first Giving Tuesday but didn’t yet understand how big the hunger issue truly was and is.

My good friend’s (the god mother to my children!) mom is someone I’ve known and trusted my entire life. I always knew she worked at the Vermont Foodbank, but I didn’t know much about the organization itself. I knew that our soccer team(s) in high school picked and packed boxes of food there as team building, and that was about the extent of it.

After that first Darn Tough Giving Tuesday, she described to me the amount of hunger that we have in Vermont, and boy did that hit different. Even though I grew up here in Vermont, I’d always assumed – as I suspect many of us have – that hunger isn’t a major issue in Vermont. During that conversation, I realized how wrong that assumption was.

Woman checking bags of lettuce for the Vermont Foodbank

One in nine people face hunger in Vermont, according to Feeding America, the Vermont Foodbank’s parent organization. One in seven Vermont children face hunger.

Why don’t more of us realize this? Well, I think there’s a multitude of reasons. Hunger is an uncomfortable issue, one that is hard to talk about, hard to handle all because those of us that aren’t facing it firsthand simply don’t think about it. It’s not top of mind. But hunger is a wildly critical issue that affects people’s world in totality. 

As I thought about what she’d said more and more, and shared what I learned with the rest of the Darn Tough family, we knew we wanted to double down on our partnership. At the root of the issue, fighting hunger embodies Darn Tough’s values – supporting our community, and putting family first.

Vermont Foodbank handing out bags of food to the community

When we talk about prioritizing community and family, we are thinking on many levels – globally, domestically, in Vermont, and internally. Just looking at the two levels closest to us – Vermont and our own employees, we realized hunger is an issue that we could truly make a difference in.

Turning Socks into Meals

Suddenly, supporting the Foodbank was a no-brainer. It was such a simple conversion, that we could turn a sock sale into a meal that would go straight to people who needed it, to supporting our community, to supporting families. We knew the people at the Foodbank, we knew where the money would go – to nourishing people.

That close understanding of the need and the simplicity of the solution is what made us confident to ask for your support, to help us turn socks into meals. We realized that with our platform, with your support, we could make a huge, tangible impact.

We decided to do more. We continued to support the Vermont Foodbank for the next two Giving Tuesdays, but challenged ourselves to think bigger. Right around that same time, COVID19 took the world by storm. Internally, we asked how we could help, and the Vermont Foodbank sock was the answer.

A closeup look at the sock knit for the Vermont Foodbank

As we were challenging ourselves to think bigger, the question came up, “Will people want to support this? Does someone in Oregon want to buy a sock to feed someone in Vermont?” The answer was, and is, yes. I believe people have empathy for each other no matter the distance. A hungry person is a hungry person, no matter where they live, and I believe in the goodness and kindness of our larger Darn Tough community… I believe in you.

And wow, did you prove me right. We were blown away by your response to the Vermont Foodbank sock. The number of you who stepped forward and purchased that sock, really purchased a meal to help provide for hungry Vermonters.

Hunger at Home

Hunger takes courage to talk about, to confront. That’s why I respect the Vermont Foodbank’s work so much. And if we hadn’t partnered with them, we might never have understood how close to home fighting hunger truly is.

After the success of the custom 4VTFB sock, our Founder & CEO Ric Cabot walked through our Northfield Mill with the Foodbank’s CEO, John Sayles. While on the manufacturing floor, they were stopped but one of our employees, someone who’d worked in the Mill for over 20 years. That employee stopped them to thank them – because they had utilized the Vermont Foodbank’s help at a point in their life.

Jon and Ric walking through the Darn Tough Mill

They wanted both CEO’s to understand how impactful and meaningful Darn Tough and the Foodbank’s partnership is, and what it meant that the company they worked for and the nonprofit that had supported their family in a time of great need had this beautiful, symbiotic relationship that they hadn’t even asked for. That they felt pride knowing their company and their community were so closely linked, supporting each other.

Telling that story took courage, and this is just one story – think of all the untold stories. One in nine Vermonters struggle with hunger – this story reminded us that our own internal community was no exception. By supporting the Vermont Foodbank, we helped further support our own family.

Days of Giving

In 2020, we decided to commit to quarterly giving days to support the Vermont Foodbank. Each giving day looked a bit different – from a Giving Tuesday to knitting the Jenerosity sock – but each day showed us more and more how much you cared, and how much we could do together.

When we donated over 35,000 meals that first Giving Tuesday, it felt so good. We felt like we’d moved the biggest mountain possible. We went to the Foodbank and physically packed up boxes of food that Darn Tough sales had paid for. I can’t even describe that feeling of shaking the Vermont Foodbank workers’ hands, celebrating together in their offices.

A Darn Tough employee packing up food helping at the Vermont Foodbank

It’s incredible to me that since that day, a day truly not so long ago, we’ve gone from 266 lbs. of turkey and 35,000 meals to donating 1,000,000 meals. It’s almost unfathomable.

It’s also humbling. I’m humbled to know that people – that you, our Darn Tough global community – see what we’re doing, understand, and want to be a part of it as much as we do.

Thank You

So, thank you. To each and every one of you that have made a purchase to support the Vermont Foodbank, know that we see you. To make the purchases on the days you do, of the socks you do – it’s not by chance, it’s a choice.

Personally, I think it gives Darn Tough another reason to keep fighting to stay in Vermont, in our tiny, rough-and-tumble communities that need us as much as we need them. With a second Mill recently opened in Waterbury, VT, our USA roots are only growing deeper. We rely on our community even as we support them – we wouldn’t exist without them.

Volunteer with stacks of food to feed the hungry

Hunger is a problem that isn’t going away. A million meals is worth celebrating, but it’s only a drop in the bucket. We can’t solve hunger overnight, but if we continue to chip away at it here in Vermont, we can be a big drop in that bucket. We can help make what’s largely an unseen issue be more visible. If we can make one more person think, provide one more meal to a family in need, that’s reason enough for me.

About the Author

Brand and Community Manager Courtney working on the Jenerosity Sock to benefit Vermont Foodbank

Courtney is the Brand and Community Marketing Manager at Darn Tough Vermont. She’s been with the company since 2015 and has worked in every building that we have as we continue to grow and move into new facilities. When she’s not on the clock, you’ll find her with her husband, their two kids and their dog… likely wearing a pair of cushioned crew height socks.