When I co-founded Project Feed the Thousands 26 years ago, I never imagined that our mission would be so incredibly necessary all these years later — that the need would have increased so exponentially — that we would be supporting nine area food shelves and community meal programs.
This year, I sought to visit all of the food shelves that Project Feed the Thousands supports, and to write about them so that we can all have a better understanding of the food-insecurity challenges that many people in our community face.
This is the third and final in a series of profiles of these local food shelves and the vital role they have in the lives of our friends and neighbors.
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Loaves and Fishes Community Kitchen — Located at Centre Congregational Church on Main Street in Brattleboro, Loaves and Fishes has been serving lunch for more than 30 years to anyone in need.
Ruth Tilghman, who calls herself the “leader,” gave my wife, Rose, and me a tour of the kitchen and numerous storage areas, all well-stocked with non-perishable food items.
Ruth told us that her motto is “old food made new,” explaining that they make use of food donated by local grocery stores and restaurants that is almost perfect but deemed pre-compostable and would otherwise be thrown away.
In the bustling kitchen we found more than a dozen cheerful volunteers, all busy with their specific tasks.
Lloyd was dubbed the “onion cutter,” Adawa was the baker, Doug was washing dishes. Everyone had a job to do, some of them arriving as early as 6:30 in the morning, all of them enjoying one another’s company and fellowship. Their camaraderie was such that at one point they all broke out in song.
While the average of number of people served is around 150 on any given day, the crew always makes extra, not knowing how many might show up. (They have served as many as 400!) They also allow for the possibility of meals being taken home for neighbors or to supplement meals eaten at home.
Loaves and Fishes also provides lunch for the 30 or so children enrolled in the church’s day care center, and on Fridays these children’s families stock up on basic items for the weekend, such as cereal and canned goods.
Ruth told us that she relies on funds received from Project Feed the Thousands to purchase food from the Vermont Foodbank, which allows her to not only continue serving a bountiful lunch but also to have a give-away table so that those in need can take home whatever they may need to supplement what little they may have.
Loaves and Fishes serves lunch Tuesdays and Fridays from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
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Townshend Community Food Shelf — We also visited the Townshend Community Food Shelf, where we met with Joe Winrich and Kathy Squires, both board members for several years.
The volunteer-run community food shelf offers supplemental food assistance to all people in need, mostly serving families and individuals from Townshend and the surrounding towns in the West River Valley.
Located at the Townshend Church on the Common, volunteers have been serving the public since the early 2000s. Each week, they serve 20 to 30 individuals representing households totaling 60 to 80 people; these visitors pick up supplemental food items for the week.
In addition to basic shelf-stable items, the food shelf also provides fresh produce, meat, and dairy items. Students from the Townshend Elementary School and Leland & Gray Middle School regularly help stock the shelves, and everyone recently assembled 65 Christmas baskets for anyone in need.
Many of the turkeys and hams for these baskets were provided by Grace Cottage Hospital, a significant local sponsor, as are the River Bend Market and the Newfane Congregational Church.
As a special addition to these holiday baskets, students from Leland and Gray Union High School baked and assembled Christmas cookie plates for all 65 baskets. This past Thanksgiving, they also provided something special: 65 baked apple tartlets.
The Townshend Community Food Shelf is open every Monday from 6 to 7:30 p.m.
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Foodworks — Our last stop for the week, and indeed the last of our nine food-shelf visits, was to Foodworks, a division of Groundworks Collaborative.
Operating our region’s largest and busiest food-shelf program, and once located in a cramped and dark garage on South Main Street at what was formerly the Brattleboro Area Drop-in Center, Foodworks moved to its new location on Aug. 12, 2019.
We met with Christine Colascione, food coordinator, who gave us a tour of their new space, brightly lit and complete with grocery-store-style aisles, refrigerator and freezer sections, and shopping baskets.
Fresh produce is strategically located in the front, as it would be in any grocery store, thus promoting a healthy shopping experience. Staff are also located at the front, each offering a familiar face trained to provide assistance with compassion and dignity and to streamline the intake process.
Christine told us that they really wanted Foodworks to be a community resource where people not only get food but learn from one another about cooking and nutrition. Volunteers regularly prepare sample dishes from ingredients available at the food shelf.
Foodworks is actively looking for more volunteers to prepare samples, hand out recipes, and create an educational environment. The new space allows for much-needed storage in the basement, and during our visit we observed a significant amount of diapers, courtesy of an annual diaper drive held by St. Michael’s Episcopal Church.
We also noticed a large number of yet-to-be-sorted bags of groceries collected by 92.7BrattFM during a marathon broadcast Thanksgiving week.
Christine told us that they pick up seven or eight pallets of food from the Vermont Foodbank each week, and Foodworks also receives more than 8,000 pounds of donated food each week from Cumberland Farms, MamaSezz, and area grocery stores.
Unfortunately, most of this food lasts for only one week, as 70 to 100 people stop by every day that the food shelf is open. This represents as many as 600 unduplicated households each month.
While individuals’ food donations are significant, Foodworks relies on the money raised by Project Feed the Thousands to fund the purchase of food from the Vermont Foodbank for most of the following year.
Foodworks is open Mondays from 11 a.m. to 4 p,m., Tuesdays from noon to 2 p.m. (for seniors only) and 2 to 4 p.m. (for everyone), Wednesdays from 1 to 6 p.m., Fridays from noon to 4 p.m., and the last Saturday of each month from 9 a.m. to noon.
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I have now completed my visits, and I have to say that this has been a truly enriching experience.
I have personally witnessed angels and saints among us, devoting countless hours, and shedding more than a few tears, all for the betterment of those less fortunate in our community.
The need is tremendous. In our area, the place we are so proud to call home, more than 2,000 families face hunger and one in four children will go to bed hungry tonight.
No one should endure the daily hardships that some in our community are faced with daily.
I hope that you have enjoyed these profiles, and I hope that they inspire you to play a more active role in providing for our friends and neighbors.
I thank the staff and volunteers at these food shelves for graciously allowing Rose and me to visit and learn more about the services they offer. Thanks also to all of the local stores, organizations, churches, businesses, and everyone else that support Project Feed the Thousands. In addition to all those mentioned in my series, not to be forgotten are United Natural Foods, C&S Wholesale Grocers, Hannaford, Market32, Aldi’s, the Brattleboro Food Co-op, and Walmart. They all give generously, all year, and we couldn’t do it without them.
Please support Project Feed the Thousands and the good work being done by Foodworks Food Shelf, St. Brigid’s Kitchen and Loaves & Fishes Community Kitchen, all in Brattleboro; Guilford Food Pantry; Bread of Life Food Pantry in Vernon; Hinsdale Food Pantry; Our Place Drop In Center in Bellows Falls; Putney Foodshelf; and Townshend Community Food Shelf.