Sanders Camp Turns Meme into Meals (on Wheels)

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has figured out what becomes a legend most: using a newly minted iconic image to raise money for feeding Vermont’s elderly population. The store associated with his office has printed the image of the bundled-up senator on sweatshirts, which it is selling for $45 a pop. All proceeds will go to Meals on Wheels Vermont.

The dark crewneck, which features the newly iconic photo of Sanders well-swaddled against the chill of inauguration day 2020, is on back order at store.berniesanders.com. A note on the site requests purchaser patience, indicating orders may need between four and eight weeks to be filled.

At Age Well, the Colchester, Vt.-based nonprofit that facilitates Meals on Wheels services for northwestern Vermont, a landing page notes that the sweatshirt may have sold out while urging site visitors to make a donation. According to news site WCAX, meal programs in the state have seen an increase in demand of between 30% and 40%.

Age Well is the largest of five Agencies on Aging within Vermont that provide Meals on Wheels services. The Sanders campaign is dividing the contributions between all five.

“The Senator Sanders donation to Meals on Wheels Vermont has been absolutely unbelievable,” Age Well Director of Public Relations and Business Development Tracey Shamberger wrote in an email. “Our social media channel followers have increased beyond what we ever expected.

“We are really seeing the impact most on our social media channels and donations are up,” Shamberger added. “We really will not know what the impact on fundraising and development until the sweatshirt meme frenzy cools down but I don’t see that happening anytime soon.”

Sanders told CNN’s Dana Bash this past Sunday that he expected donations would be “a couple million dollars” — a denomination rarely seen outside the confines of Sanders’ native Brooklyn.

Meals on Wheels Vermont has long been close to Sanders’ heart. In April 2018, he recognized the organization’s efforts by entering comments into the Congressional record which read, in part:

“These volunteers do much more than just deliver a meal. They also provide invaluable social interaction and companionship for the seniors they visit, which goes a long way to combat the effects of isolation that many older Vermonters face, especially in rural areas. Without this social interaction, seniors are more likely to have feelings of loneliness and depression, which puts them at higher risk for dementia, chronic disease, falls, and hospitalization.

The regular visits serve another purpose, as well. The volunteers routinely check to make sure that the seniors are safe, secure, and warm. They know each person they visit and recognize immediately if something doesn’t seem right. It is no exaggeration to say that they have saved Vermonters’ lives by checking when no one answers the door, taking the time to discover that someone had fallen and been injured. Every single Meals on Wheels volunteer has my sincere appreciation for their remarkable work.”

In 2015, Sanders requested a study from the Government Accountability Office that found more than one in five seniors did not know where their next meal was coming from.

The bundled Bernie sweatshirt isn’t the only apparel item for which America’s newest fashion trendsetter has moved the needle. The Edgecomb down jacket, made by Burlington, Vt.-based Burton Snowboards, saw sales the day after the inauguration double that of the previous two-and-a-half weeks, with the specific color worn by Sanders sold out, according to Bloomberg.com.

While Burton Snowboards has not publicly stated whether the newfound interest in its offerings will translate into nonprofit donations, the company is a founding partner in the Chill Foundation, a 25-year-old nonprofit that helps youths build confidence through physical activities and mentoring experiences.

Not all apparel makers whose works were displayed by Sanders are cashing in on their newfound fame. Vermont teacher Jen Ellis, who made the repurposed wool mittens Sanders was sporting, hand-makes them as gifts, and has no plans to mass-produce them. In a tweet, she suggested those interested in purchasing similar products look on crafts site Etsy.