I realized about a month ago that I have not posted to this blog in a very long time. Of course, I have all sorts of reasons…aka excuses. But mainly it comes down to the work we do every day – helping reduce hunger in our community- can be overwhelming at times. It is almost time to welcome Spring in Vermont, although for those of us who live here it still feels like a whisper and a prayer. Since we have been gone a while this blog post is mainly about some of the work we do at Our Place in Bellows Falls VT. More to come – I promise.
Our Place is a daytime drop-in center that offers help with food and other essential needs in a non-judgmental, safe and respectful atmosphere. One of the main goals of Our Place Drop-In Center is to provide an easily accessible source of nutritious food to low-income people who do not have enough income, SNAP benefits or resources to meet the nutritional needs of their families.
Because we serve breakfast and lunch five days a week, we need to source a lot more food than organizations which have food pantry operations only. We prepare and serve and average of 1200 well balanced meals including breakfast and lunch each month. We offer fruit, vegetables, green salad, protein in either a meat or vegetarian dish and often a desert for lunch. Breakfast consist of a variety of bread, cold and hot cereal, fruit , juice as well as eggs a few times each week. On average 165 households ( about 520 people) are served in the food pantry and 45 bags of assorted groceries are delivered by our faithful volunteers to seniors or disabled individuals with limited mobility, who cannot access the food pantry on a regular basis.
Last year we started a new project with the local elementary school. We provided lunches each Friday from July through August (when the summer lunch program operated at the Central Elementary School) for the parents who were there with their young children. The school district has not been able to provide free lunches for the parents for the past couple of years, so we decided to work with them to begin a program one day each week. We prepared bag lunches with sandwiches, salad and fruit, milk or juice. Along with the lunches we offered a variety of fresh produce for the families to take and prepare with home meals. According to the lunch coordinator the families appreciated the fresh food and it all went home with parents for the weekend. The coordinator said she was not from the Bellows Falls area but understood that “there is a big need for fresh produce for these particular families” It was a successful project and we plan to increase the days/volume next year.
We are all looking forward to the summer and fall season of abundance in Vermont; when it feels like we almost have enough to share with our neighbors in need. The Healthy Harvest Network will be planning for the growing season this month and we welcome food producers of all sorts to reach out to us with your surplus food that we can add to our distribution system.
After months of preparation, the 16th annual Empty Bowl fundraising event for Our Place was a resounding success. More than 150 people came together for an evening of great food, lively music, and good old fashioned fun. For the past few years, Alyson’s Orchard owner Susan Jasse has generously allowed us to use the beautiful space for our Empty Bowl event – helping to make the evening a special one.
Soups were donated by Burdick’s in Walpole, Café Loco in Westminster, Kurn Hattin Homes, Murray’s in Walpole, Popolo’s in Bellows Falls, Smokin Bowls in Rockingham , the Saxtons River Inn, Ed Warner’s famous chili, and the Walpole Tavern.
The children from the Kurn Hattin Homes school did a great job of passing the appetizers and serving salad and desert to our guests. We thank them for their service and sunny smiles.
For the first year, and we hope many more, Sharon Boccelli was our auctioneer. She did a great job in helping us hold a very successful auction of items that included a week in a condo in Austria, an original painting by Charlie Hunter, collectibles from the Windham Antique Center, Breakfast at Readmore, Earrings from Silver Forest, King Arthur Flour baking classes, a B&B stay at the 1900 House and the Interlaken Inn, Roots on the River tickets, a bowl from Tsuga studios and much more.
Thank you to all who donated their time, energy and spirit to make this a wonderful evening and to raise money to fund the work at Our Place Drop-In Center. And a special thanks to our Board of Directors who made it all happen.
Dear Friend of Our Place,
Last year we celebrated the 20th anniversary of Our Place with mixed emotions. We were grateful for the generous support of so many people in our community, happy that we were able to provide good nutritional food to people who need food, and yet troubled by the fact that more people than ever before need our help to make it through the month without being hungry.
Thank you for your past support. In the past year, your donations have helped Our Place provide more than 150,000 pounds of vegetables, fruits, milk, meat, cheese and other nutritious foods to our neighbors in need. We serve about 1200 nourishing meals in our dining room each month and provide free groceries to more than 210 households every month ─ the need has grown by over 35% in the past two years.
We continue to look for new sources of good quality food and are developing new partnerships with local farmers, food distributors, local markets and other food pantries in Vermont to ensure we are capturing all of the surplus food in our region. Last November, we worked with staff and volunteers at Paul Harlow’s farm to glean and freeze 1000 pounds of produce for the winter months and we plan to repeat this project again this year. We have expanded our gardens both on site and at the community garden in Bellows Falls and are always looking for new ways that we can gather, produce and prepare the food our families need to stay healthy. In June we began a new program we call “ Weekend Food for Kids”, which offers nutritious snacks, juice, breakfast and lunch food on shelves just for the children. On Friday afternoons, parents can bring their children, or older kids can come alone, to pick out the items they like. We started this program in response to a need that was identified by local school teachers and principals.
Your support is essential to our continued success in reducing hunger in our community. We cannot do it without you, so we are asking for your help again. Our goal for the 2013 Annual Appeal is $21,000.00. Please contribute what you can and know that we are working to ensure that no one living in our community is going without food.
Our Place Drop-In Center
4 Island St., PO Box 852
Bellows Falls, VT 05101
Phone (802) 463-2217
Fax (802) 463-0786
School age children who live in the towns we serve (list below) can come to Our Place food pantry on Friday afternoons between 3:00 and 5:00 to pick out snacks, juice, cereal and easy to prepare food for lunch over the weekend. We will offer the children a brightly colored backpack bag ( blue, green, purple and pink) that they can use to carry their food home for the weekend. The kids should bring back their bags each week to fill with healthy snacks and juice. The variety of food will change but will usually include cereal bars, milk and juice boxes, fruit cups, soups and macaroni and cheese. We also usually have soy milk for kids who cannot drink cow’s milk.
People wishing to donate healthy snacks, juice and lunch food for children can stop by Our Place Drop-In Center from Monday through Friday from 8:30 to 4:00 to drop off donations.
We are planning a food drive at Shaw’s Market in Walpole on Saturday July 13th. And donation bins for food are at Lisai’s Market in Bellows Falls, VT and Discount Food Warehouse in North Walpole, NH.
We appreciate all of the community support that helps us to help our neighbors. We serve a free breakfast and lunch 5 days a week and offer groceries in our food pantry to more than 170 families each month. Community meals are open to everyone. The food pantry serves people who live in Athens, Bellows Falls, Cambridgeport, Grafton, Rockingham, Saxtons River, Westminster, Walpole and the surrounding Greater Falls area.
We are currently serving approximately 50% more people in the food pantry than we did two years ago. In January we helped provide food for 203 households in the food pantry; this included 391 adults (50 of these were seniors) and 226 children. We made 47 home deliveries of groceries, mainly to senior citizens who are not able to transport food to their homes.
The families or individuals we serve in the food pantry change with people’s circumstances. Some families we see almost every month and others just one or two times in a year. This might be because a person has lost a job, or had hours reduced, or, in some cases, because the head of household has become disabled. In 2012 we served 1870 different people in the food pantry.
The number of meals we serve has also increased from an average of 35 per day two years ago to an average of 55 per day, with the end of the month being very busy – we serve more than 80 meals some days. We are now open Monday through Friday as well as Sunday during the winter. This is because there are very few places for people to go and no free meals served in this area on Sunday.
We continually strive to offer food that is highly nutritious, whether it is fresh, frozen or packaged foods. We calculate that in the past year we distributed more than 150,000 pounds of food, either in meals or in groceries. This included thousands of pounds of produce, fresh milk, eggs, cheese, frozen meat and canned fruits, soups, pasta, wholesome cereals, and more.
About 65% of the food we distribute is donated from a variety of sources. We purchase the rest, mainly the dairy, eggs, fruits, soups, juice, and other items that are not readily available for free from the Vermont Foodbank or other donors.
During the period from Thanksgiving to New Years we received an incredible outpouring of donations. Our food pantry was full, sometimes to overflowing, with collections delivered from businesses, schools, churches, organizations, and individuals. Food came from as far away as Brattleboro, from just across the river in Walpole, and from right down the street in Bellows Falls. The variety and quantity amazed us all and made us thankful for the support we receive.
Similarly, we received an outpouring of cash donations from hundreds of people, many of whom were new to our list of supporters. From piggy-bank-sized cash collections to sizeable checks, they all warmed our hearts.
Of course, we have handed out all of that food and are busy spending the money to help feed our community! The need goes on.
In order to supplement donated fresh vegetables and fruits that we use in our meals or offer in the food pantry, we purchase a few CSA shares from local farms. We also have a garden with seven raised beds and a small hoop style greenhouse, and two plots that we use at the Bellows Falls community garden.
This year we piloted a project to preserve fresh local produce to use in the winter. We partnered with some local groups, including Salvation Farms, Paul Harlow’s farm, Post Oil Solutions and lots of local volunteers to process and freeze produce that was gleaned from Westminster Organics and a local orchard. From November through December we peeled, chopped, pureed, and froze almost 1000 pounds of produce including kale, peppers, apples, and squash.
Donations of fresh fruit and vegetables are very important to us and we are lucky to get many extras from local gardeners in the summer and from Black River Produce all year long. We also get donations of bakery goods and produce from Shaw’s twice a week.
Our staff is made up of volunteers, a few paid employees including our food services manager and director, Vermont Associates trainees (a program for people over 55) and parents on the Reach Up program. These are required to do 20 hours a week of community service in order to receive state grants to help them with housing and other needs.
In addition to the food we provide, our staff also offers help with completing forms for social security and disability funds, seasonal fuel, and 3 Squares Vermont benefits. These forms can be very intimidating to people who are not used to them.
Many senior citizens do not know that they qualify for a little food assistance such as commodity food from the USDA or 3 Squares Vermont, which can help fill the nutritional gaps in their diet. We encourage people to take advantage of this federal program; this also brings money into our community by helping people purchase more food from local grocers.
We also assist people with online searches for jobs and apartments. In the past year we have been able to help a few people who had been homeless work through the process of getting into their first apartment in years.
Our staff also provides referrals to other human services agencies for more complex problems that we cannot solve. Both HCRS and Pathways to Housing use our office space to meet with clients.
New initiatives include our bread project which will include making bread in our new bread maker we purchased through a grant. This is for our home deliveries and teaching bread baking to adults and children in our community.
We have also purchased a food dehydrating system so that we can dry fruit and vegetables such as bananas, apples, garlic, tomatoes and cooking herbs. We also got a donation for this project.
We will continue our partnership with Paul Harlow’s Westminster Organics and Salvation Farms this spring – coordinating volunteers and working to preserve fresh produce that would otherwise become compost.
Our Director and two board members are involved the Benchmarks for a Better Vermont Performance Institute, which is organized by Marlboro Graduate School, the United Way of Vermont, Common Good VT, and the Vermont Community Foundation. The work we are doing with the PI around results based accountability and performance measurement will help inform a new strategic plan that OP will be working on in the next nine months. We will also hold community forums for input from our donors, clients, local legislators and all members of the community.
Finally, we are starting a program to provide food to local elementary and middle school children on weekends. According to Hunger Free Vermont, many children who rely on free breakfast and lunch at school during the week don’t have adequate nutritious food to last through the weekend. The principals of both the middle school and the elementary school in BF told us they have between 50 and 65% of their enrollment on the free or reduced lunch program. That is about 115 children in each school.
Starting around April 1st, Our Place will offer supplemental food allotments to children who are in the free or reduced cost lunch programs in these two local schools. The purpose of this program is to help ensure that healthy food in a reasonable quantity is available to those children who may not have such a diet available to them on weekends. This is an unfunded program we are trying to support out of our regular food pantry resources or through grants.
This program will only be conducted during the school year. During the summer, Our Place and other local organizations run meal programs to replace the school lunch programs.
We are saddened by the growing need for our services in this land of plenty. At the same time, we are pleased that we can provide those same services so well to so many.
We are in constant need of support: food, money, volunteers. We thank you everyone who has supported our work in the past and hope you can continue to support us in the future.
Thank you to all of the local businesses that support us with monetary or in-kind donations. The list is long but includes: Applied Bolting, Baba-A-Louis, Black River Produce, Chroma, Connecticut River Transit, Durand Toyota, Marquis and Morano, Morrison Tyson, Shaw’s Market, Silver Forest, Sonnax, Sovernet, Westminster Organics and Whitney Blake.
Last year, we started the “Our Place Garden Project” which included raised garden beds filled with herbs and vegetables for our kitchen. This spring we have added one new handicapped accessible raised bed built by two members of Rotary Club of Bellows Falls, and a small plastic covered hoop house, which volunteers and staff built last month. We will also be constructing low tunnels and purchasing garden cover cloth to expand the growing season. In addition to the raised garden beds adjacent to Our Place, we also have two plots in the town community garden. The Garden Project has garnered a lot of interest and support in the community, bringing together a diverse group of people who have donated time and supplies. Thank you to everyone who has helped by providing time or supplies for the garden. Donations have included lumber from Carl Mosher at Applewood Custom Sawing, compost and top soil from Bazin Brothers Farm, fencing from Wendy Brennan, plastic for the hoop house from Sustainable Putney, a raised handicap accessible bed built by two members of the Bellows Falls Rotary and time and effort from many people in our community. Volunteers are an integral part of the garden project, performing tasks including planting, weeding, watering, construction and maintenance. We have had help from volunteers from Vermont Academy, Bellows Falls Rotary, Compass School and Our Place guests and employees.
We think that educating and leading by example is one of the best ways to help people recognize the immediate ways they can take steps toward a healthier diet. While information about healthy eating and nutrition is widely available from many sources, the way the information is presented doesn’t make it easy for the people we serve to learn ways to make the small daily changes that can lead to better choices and healthier eating.
Pictures to come……
Thank you to everyone who has helped support Our Place in 2011, your contributions have helped our neighbors who are struggling to pay their housing, heat and medical expenses while putting enough wholesome food on their tables. Your help improves the wellbeing of more than 570 adults and children living in our area, who receive free groceries from Our Place each month. We also deliver groceries to some 50 of our neighbors with limited mobility, who live in Bellows Falls, Cambridgeport, Saxtons River, Westminster, Rockingham, North Walpole and the surrounding areas.
Our Place employees cooked and served 423 breakfasts and 708 lunches in our dining room last month to our guests. Our chef, Matt Gowell, is very resourceful in making delicious, healthy meals from the donated food that we have on hand in our pantry; for example lunch may be a nutritious minestrone soup or lemon chicken with Italian vegetables and pasta. The lunch we serve at Our Place always includes a fresh vegetable, salad and fruit. We are able to serve these high quality, nutritious meals thanks to the continued support from caring donors like you. In November, we were able to offer turkeys for many families to cook at home and there were more than 75 guests with us for a Thanksgiving meal on November 22 and 81 people enjoyed our Christmas holiday luncheon that included ham, turkey, scalloped potatoes and Matt’s famous vegetable lasagna.
The board, staff and guests of Our Place are very thankful for all of the support we receive from members of our local churches, businesses and the many individuals in our community who provide ongoing support for the work we do every day. Your generosity makes it all possible—thank you.
Our Place Drop-In Center is open 9:00 am to 4:00pm on Monday through Friday; we serve free breakfast and lunch and offer free groceries in our food pantry. All are welcome!Our Place offers three main services to the local community:
- A Drop-In Center for people who need shelter during the day, a telephone, fax and computer to use for local or long-distance communications, and a shower and rest room for personal care.
- A dining room where people enjoy healthy, delicious hot meals and a safe place to socialize with other people in the community.
- A Food Pantry that is set up like a small grocery store and provides a choice of foods from the main food categories: grains, proteins, vegetables, fruits (including 100% fruit juice); miscellaneous shelves with items such as salad dressing, salsa and muffin mixes; and personal care items. There is also a baby food section that we keep fully stocked with jars of baby food, formula and some sizes of diapers.
In our food pantry we serve a diverse population including senior citizens, people who have lost their jobs, disabled head of households, and many young families with children and who are working for low-wages and limited hours or who are unemployed. Even though individuals or families may receive 3 Squares VT benefits, the money is not enough to feed themselves or their families for the entire month. Many senior citizens, young families and others in our community eat meals with us a few times every week.
Wholesome foods including fruits, vegetables, lean meats, and whole grain breads are provided to people in the communities we serve; this include Athens, Bellows Falls, Cambridgeport, Rockingham, Saxtons River, Walpole, North Walpole and Westminster. By supplying free meals and groceries and a welcoming place to eat and socialize, we are helping people nourish themselves and their families and enabling them to have more money for other necessities such as housing, car expenses, and medicine.
In addition to providing food to nourish members of our community, we offer a safe, welcoming place where people can just sit and relax or converse with other guests. Sharing meals is an enjoyable experience that also nourishes the spirit – we see people helping each other in many ways.
We welcome donations of food or money and believe in the philosophy that every little bit helps and every contribution matters.
Happy Holidays to all of our guests, donors and volunteers from the board and staff at Our Place Drop-In Center in Bellows Falls Vermont
Dear Friends of Our Place,
As we gather with friends and family to celebrate this holiday season, we have many things to be thankful for. The board and staff of Our Place are thankful for the hundreds of donors who provide food and money to keep our food shelf full and our kitchen stocked so that we can feed our neighbors in need. We were able to distribute more than 75 turkeys for people to enjoy in their homes on Thanksgiving, as well as host a wonderful turkey dinner for more than 70 guests in our dining room before the holiday.
During these unsettling economic times, many more people in our community are turning to Our Place for help in obtaining enough nutritious food to keep themselves and their families healthy. As an example, by October 12th of this year, Our Place had already served the same number of meals that were served during all of 2009. We are now serving between 750 and 850 meals a month, and the number keeps growing. So far in 2010, Our Place has provided free groceries, including hundreds of pounds of fresh produce, to 1,991 adults and 1,416 children. This winter, we are again extending our hours to be open Monday through Friday from 7:30 am to 4:00 pm to meet the needs of the guests staying at the Greater Falls Warming Shelter.
Our Place has received a $5,000 Challenge Grant from the Thomas Thompson Trust, which will help us upgrade our kitchen refrigeration and cooking equipment. Every dollar you donate to Our Place during our holiday appeal will help us meet the challenge.
Please contribute what you can — and know that Our Place will be here for all our neighbors and families in need of food and companionship as long as we have the support of people like you. Please contact us if you have any questions or would like to volunteer.
We wish you all a wonderful holiday season.