It’s a classic tale of dark clouds having silver linings. In the end, water quality workers received due honors, and a lot of hungry people in Chittenden County got fed.
The saga begins back in May of 2020, when GMWEA cancelled our annual Spring Meeting/Training Conference due to COVID-19. It was bad enough that operators needing TCHs couldn’t attend the trainings usually presented, but another important annual ritual also fell by the wayside: our annual Service Excellence Awards ceremony.
True, we put out press releases to let Vermonters know about the winners’ good work, and the award plaques did get delivered, one by one. But foregoing the customary ceremony – eminently due the devoted professionals who won awards – didn’t sit well with GMWEA’s board and staff.
In chapter two, the dark clouds continued to thicken as the pandemic deepened. GMWEA had to cancel everything – including our Fall Tradeshow, the largest water quality conference and tradeshow in Vermont, scheduled for November. More operators went without trainings, and the 95 water quality companies that usually exhibit were left without a venue in which to show off their goods and services.
In chapter three, things started to look up as the water quality community fought back against the dread enemy. GMWEA began to present trainings again – online — including our day-long Stormwater Manual training, the eight-week Basic Wastewater Operations class, and a November 5 mini-conference of three, hour-long sessions.
Cancelling the Fall Tradeshow really hurt, and it could have meant the forfeiture of GMWEA’s venue deposit at the DoubleTree Hotel in Burlington. But thanks to the DoubleTree staff’s flexibility and community-mindedness, and some creative thinking by GMWEA board members and staffer Lisa Goodell, we came up with a plan to salvage some benefit from this state of affairs.
Fast forward to the happy ending, when an unusual alliance delivered over 400 pounds of staple foods to hungry Vermonters. The DoubleTree agreed to return GMWEA’s deposit in the form of food (food that conference attendees didn’t get to eat, back in November). GMWEA past president Tom DiPietro contacted Feeding Chittenden, one of Vermont’s largest hunger-response organizations, who welcomed the food donation. All agreed that the gift would be made in honor of our 2020 award winners – a way of paying forward their service to Vermont in 2019.
On Thursday morning, February 18, GMWEA board members Tom DiPietro, Chris Robinson, and Wayne Elliott drove to the DoubleTree to pick up the food; they then headed to Feeding Chittenden’s HQ on North Winooski Avenue, Burlington, to deliver it.
You can cook a lot of great dishes, for a lot of people, with this stuff: 72 pounds of garbanzo beans, 50 pounds of brown rice, 50 pounds of white rice, 80 pounds of liquid eggs, 40 pounds of shredded jack cheddar cheese, 12 gallons of canola/olive oil, 20 pounds of Cabot cheddar slices, and 60 pounds of dry black beans.
Feeding Chittenden – formerly Chittenden Emergency Food Shelf – serves over 12,000 people a year through six innovative programs. In partnership with Vermont Foodbank, they also operate the Community Kitchen Academy, which trains unemployed and underemployed individuals for careers in the food service industry – while cooking meals for community members going hungry in these tough times. Check them out at www.feedingchittenden.org .
Huge thanks are due all around: to Sherri Neumann, director of catering and events at the Doubletree Hotel; to all the folks at Feeding Chittenden; and, finally, to those who demonstrated expertise and devotion in the water quality professions in 2019:
- Vilas Gentes, wholesale maintenance technician, Champlain Water District, who won the Michael J. Garofano Water Operator of the Year Award
- Peter Laramie, chief operator, Fair Haven WWTF and Robert Wheeler, chief operator, Bellows Falls and Saxtons River WWTFs, winners of the Operator Excellence, Wastewater Award
- Randolph Center Water System, which won the Facility Excellence, Water Award
- City of Newport WWTF, winner of the Facility Excellence, Wastewater Award
- Endyne Laboratory Services, Inc., which won the Andrew Fish Laboratory Excellence Award
- Cody Grimm, water/wastewater operator, Simon Operation Services, winner of the Bob Wood Young Professional award
- Dave Wheeler, stormwater project manager, South Burlington, who won the Stormwater Award
- Liz Royer, executive director, Vermont Rural Water Association, winner of the Elizabeth Walker Meritorious Service Award
PS: GMWEA is now seeking nominations for its 2020 awards! To nominate an individual, facility, or company, visit the awards page at www.gmwea.org .