by Julie Pottier-Brown
After volunteering last week, a Melrose member made a request that I explain who we partner with for donations, and how it came to be. She was impressed by the fact the local food pantry came to pick up the leftovers.
Leftovers are a reality. Some members miss their Share. You may have done it yourself. We have to order everyone’s Share every week unless there has been a hold placed (which in itself only became possible two years ago). So if four Shares miss, several other members do not take their cabbage or greens, the grower sent a little too much, or for some other unknown reason we have excess, there will be leftovers. We always invite members who miss to go at the end (6:50 ish) of any depot day, speak to the coordinator, and see if they will be able to recoup their loss. Once these processes are complete – the leftovers must find a home.
Back in the days of the Marblehead Eco-Farm (1993 – 2001), I believe the leftovers were brought to My Brothers Table in Lynn, a soup kitchen that provides free meals twice a day M-F and once per weekend day. They rely solely on private donations and sponsor an annual walk in October. My Brother’s Table remained the recipient of leftovers for many years out of the Marblehead location. We organized a volunteer to do the pantry run at the end of the depot day. The volunteer was able to get from Marblehead to Lynn before the kitchen closed up for the evening. We maintained this system for many years until five years ago.
In August 2013, I received an email from the Outreach Coordinator at the Marblehead Council on Aging. The Department of Agricultural Resources in MA started a program in the early 1980’s to provide coupons for fresh food at local farmers markets to WIC (Women, Infants, Children) recipients and low-income seniors. The state provides a statistical number of coupons, meaning based on the population of the town, there is a formula for determining how many coupons are needed. When Marla Contacted me, she had 18 seniors who were on a wait-list to receive these coupons. Though they received over 40 coupons, they needed more. She wondered if it were possible for her to pick up some leftover produce at the end of the night to satisfy those seniors on the wait-list. Of course! We have extras every depot day. We invited Marla to come by and see what we have. She was happy to receive what we offered, noting it was of good quality, and surprised by the volume. This cold call turned into a program whereby the depot coordinator drops the leftovers at the senior center. Marla employs a crew of volunteers to drive portions of the leftovers out to each elderly housing complex in town so those seniors who cannot drive can benefit as well. We have kept the Council on Aging in Marblehead as the recipient of the leftovers for these past five years. It feels right to keep the food in the community. We have received some really nice cards and letters of appreciation over the years.
When the Eco-Farm expanded to Salem in 2000, we needed to find a place to bring the end of night surplus. The Salem Mission was the name of a homeless shelter in downtown Salem – originally in a church on Crombie Street, and now in the former Youth Center at the decommissioned St. Mary’s Italian Church and renamed Lifebridge. Lifebridge aims to end homelessness and provides three meals a day almost every day to residents of the shelter and those in need in the community. At the end of the night or the next morning, the depot coordinator (originally me, Julie) would bring the leftover goods to Lifebridge. At that time, they partnered with St Joseph’s Food Pantry, and any food not used up through meals would go directly to the food pantry. A few changes at St Joseph Pantry and Lifebridge caused our food not to be utilized as quickly as necessary, so started going over to My Brothers Table in Lynn. One or two times over these years I had dropped some apples and squash off at the senior center in Salem and was rewarded with a really nice note signed by many. I wondered if they would like to partner with us to receive leftovers twice a week. I placed a call to the director and inquired if the seniors would welcome the food? Would it be distributed and utilized? Oh yes was the answer. So twice a week, late morning when there are Salem seniors there for programs or lunch, I drop off whatever may have been left the night before. Salem FDC Member Susan Damegreene has been a member since we came to Salem in 2000 and manages the distribution of the food to seniors twice a week. We’ve talked a few times about the opportunity to volunteer with Susan from 10:30 – 12 pm each Wednesday and Friday. Volunteers need to pass a CORI check, and while anyone may volunteer, there are extra benefits for seniors who volunteer. If you or anyone you know would like to volunteer, please email Susan.
When we expanded to Melrose in 2005, there were myriad challenges. I wasn’t thinking about end of day donations until we had secured permission, a temporary location, and were about to open. I got a call from Joan of Servant’s Heart Food Pantry who wanted to join the coop to provide produce to people in the pantry. What a gift! I asked if she would be interested in taking all the left behind produce/missed Shares? She was happy to be able to offer this produce to those who used the food pantry. When we expanded to the second day, we needed a further plan and landed on asking a volunteer to take the leftovers after depot closing and drive them Wednesday morning to Bread of Life in Malden. Today, we have a volunteer drive Tuesday leftovers to A Servants Heart where they store the goods in their fridge until Friday pantry day.
When we hosted a celebratory Harvest Dinner for our 20th anniversary four years ago, we earned enough of a surplus from ticket sales to send a financial donation to The Salem Pantry, Marblehead Food Pantry, and A Servant’s Heart. We have used surplus Community Aid money to buy bushels of apples for several local pantries and organizations as requested by our members (this was an unusual year where we had some unspent money in the Community Aid Fund – this only happened once). The Harvest dinner committee has agreed to use any proceeds from our 25th Anniversary Farm to Table Gala Dinner (Sunday Evening, September 30th, Appleton Farms!) to support the community aid fund.
We are proud to partner with each of these organizations. What is an end of night concern for us (have you closed the depot on a heavy vacation week in August when there is SO MUCH FOOD leftover it is inexplicable?) is an incredible benefit to others.
One other way we decided to help those who are food insecure, was to apply to accept SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program commonly referred to as food stamps) benefits five years ago, and just underwent a re-certification process. We have had a Community Aid Fund for many years. We offer financial help to those who feel they cannot fully afford a Share. This fund is populated by both the FDC and our members – THANK YOU if you donated! We decided that those members who receive SNAP should be able to pay for their FDC Fruit and Veggie Shares with their benefit. We now have aid recipients, SNAP users, and (newly reinstated/refunded) something called the HIP program. This is a pilot in MA called the Healthy Incentives Program. There was a lot of paperwork, and government legalese to wade through (Thank You Tamara!!) to get us approved, but we are able to offer this program to SNAP users. How it works is if a member buys their Fruit and Veggie Share with the SNAP card, up to a predetermined amount goes back on their card instantly, so they can buy more and are guaranteed to have some healthy choices in their diet. It was so popular last year, the program ran out of funds in April of this year. The Governor put money behind it and got it up an running again in July 2018.
If you want to hear about another aspect of the FDC, just ask.