What’s New at Our Place Drop-In Center
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.