BRATTLEBORO — The most heavily utilized food shelf in Windham County will soon have a new - and larger - home.
Groundworks Collaborative announced last week that it has signed a lease on 141 Canal St., the former home of Domino's Pizza, as the new site for its food shelf.
In 2018, the Groundworks food shelf served more than 3,700 people in more than 1,400 households.
Originally a program of the Brattleboro Area Drop-in Center and started in the 1980s, the food shelf operated for years out of a roughly 100 sq. ft. room in the cape house at 60 South Main St.
With the Drop-In Center's merger in 2015 with Morningside Shelter to form Groundworks, the food shelf was expanded and moved into the two-bay garage at the back of the property.
The move increased the number of households that could access the food pantry simultaneously, ultimately increasing the numbers of families and individuals served.
With added refrigeration capacity, the program has since grown to include a daily offering of fresh fruit and vegetables, as well as meat, bread, yogurt, and other perishable foods.
The program will now be called “Foodworks” - a name chosen by surveying staff and clients - and will be opening later this summer.
In a news release, Groundworks staff said the relocation will expand access and parking, providing a better experience for patrons of the program.
Foodworks will be open Mondays, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Tuesdays, noon to 2 p.m. (seniors only) and 2 to 4 p.m. (open to all); Wednesdays, 1 to 6 p.m.; Fridays, noon to 4 p.m.; and the last Saturday of the month, 9 a.m. to noon. The food shelf will be closed Thursdays and Sundays.
Groundworks said that the reasons for the change in hours include “improving access by creating some early evening and weekend hours (on the last Saturday of each month) as well as improvements in the available selection of food.”
Also, the agency noted that opening the program later in the day “will allow staff to work with local grocery stores to pick up food and get it on the shelves prior to opening the program for the day, improving the selection for all patrons.”
“We wanted to make sure we kept our Senior Hours,” said Groundworks Food Shelf Coordinator Christine Colascione. “We have noticed that on Tuesday afternoons, seniors were often lining up beginning as early as noon for our 1 p.m. opening.”
Colascione said that the new hours should address that problem.
Though this is a slight reduction in hours overall, Colascione said that the addition of evening and weekend hours along with these later daily hours ”will provide people with a more fully, consistently stocked and accessible food shelf experience.”
The move is expected to cost Groundworks upwards of $15,000, primarily due to the cost of building a walk-in cooler and freezer on the site.
In addition to daily donations from local grocery and convenience stores, Foodworks is a member of the Vermont Foodbank, and spends roughly $3,400 a month on food purchased through the Foodbank to keep the shelves stocked for anyone with need.
By leveraging a vast array of donations, Groundworks offers a wide variety of options to local families, who may “shop” the food shelf (at no cost) once per month.
Foodworks is intended to be a supplement to 3SquaresVT (formerly known as “food stamps” or “SNAP”) benefits. The program is often busiest at the end of the month when many Vermonters' benefits have run out.
Groundworks has a personalized intake process - taking into account that people have different needs based on their current situation, such as losing a job, relying on Social Security, or needing to follow a medical diet.
While the program aims to ask for as little information as possible, patrons are asked to identify their situation so an appropriate plan can be made to ensure each household using the program has enough food.
“Everyone has experienced having to lean on someone else at some point in their lives,” said Josh Davis, Groundworks' executive director. “We're here to be that support for our neighbors in a time of need and want to ensure that everyone feels welcome when they come through our doors.”
Foodworks staff say they are committed to making sure no one is turned away in an emergency and has consistently provided food to Groundworks' Day Shelter program, so that those without housing and a place to store food can access food daily as needed.
That practice will continue despite the relocation of Foodworks.
The program's limit guidelines are based on the price and quantity of each item and range from “take one per household” to “take as much as you need.”
“We trust families to most accurately determine what they need and we only limit the items we know will fly off the shelf,” says Colascione. “We also encourage people to come in weekly for extra fresh produce and bread.”