“Oh The People You’ll Meet”

To quote Dr. Seuss, the people I met at last night’s “Let’s Get Social” event at Community Plate’s new home is the best phrase I know to describe the experience I had.

Last week’s post was about wanting to share experiences from other runners I would meet and eventually have their voice fill the pages of this blog.  However, I think I may have set higher expectations of what volunteers thought I wanted to hear when I talked with them.

Although Kevin had an amazing experience (http://communityplate.wpengine.com/blog/2011/08/11/delivering-out-of-the-ordinary-opportunities/) and was able to see how food he dropped off to the Open Door Shelter became dinner that evening; I came away with a richer experience from the volunteers at the Let’s Get Social gathering.

Every person I talked with was excited because they knew they made a difference.  Whether it was dropping off food to shelters, or delivering bins from shelters to donors, everyone knew and understood what they were doing made a direct impact in someone’s life.

What amazed me most was how people found out about Community Plates.  When I went to the first volunteer meeting in July 2010, there were a small handful of volunteers.  Last night the room was filled and every person I talked with heard about CP from a different source. Janine told me she found out about CP through an article in the Connecticut Post; Katrina through talking with Stephanie Webster (CT Bites) while working out at the gym; and Terry, a brand new volunteer, signed up with her friend, Diane, who read about CP through Backyard Humanitarian.

I also learned from many of the volunteers they have made their runs into a family affair.  Some bring their husbands and others bring their children because they want them to understand the importance of doing work that makes a difference for those in need.

At the end of the evening, I left knowing people can and want to make a huge difference in stopping hunger in our area.  I was pleasantly surprised to learn that through the efforts of CP runners, $316,072.50 in food was rescued in under 7 months (most of this was accomplished between September and December 2010).  Just imagine how much money CP will rescue in food at the end of 2012 with its expansion into Westchester County, NY, New Haven County, CT, Columbus OH and  Albuquerque, NM!

“Let’s Get Social” (Next Week’s Food-Runner Meetup)

As a volunteer, and the current volunteer voice of the Community Plates’ blog, I am really looking forward to next Thursday’s event, January 26th, 6:00 pm, at 76 South Main Street, Norwalk (CP’s new home).

I remember bringing my husband to the first volunteer meeting this past summer, but I admit I was incredibly timid and talked to very few people.  I had met Kevin at a CT Bites event in May, loved hearing what Community Plates wanted to do for area food-pantries, soup-kitchens and shelters and decided to volunteer.

Since then, I’ve adopted a weekly run, attended CP’s first gala with friends this past October, been sharing my experiences on CP’s blog, and using the CP food-rescue application to sign-up for additional food runs.    I have to admit, ever since the application has been posted, I’ve been looking at Community Plates differently.

Besides signing up for food runs, I’ll look at the runs and questions begin swirling around in my head.

For instance, I’m a foodie and think doing a run to Rubin Brothers Produce would be fascinating from all the early morning activity.   However, as fascinated as I am, I know I’m directionally challenged and am not a morning person.  The run is in the Bronx, but I’d end up Jersey City.  I’ve seen the name Chris associated with this run and would love to know what his experience has been with it.

I see runs to grocery stores, restaurants, coffee shops and fast-food places.  I see people adopting runs as teams and constantly want to know what their experience is like.

As I see people’s names associated with runs on the food rescue schedule, I’m realizing there is more to Community Plates than a non-profit rescuing food in our area. Community Plates is becoming a community of people, each with a different story, from a different walk of life, all wanting to do something to help put an end to hunger in our area.

My name is Joan and although I currently provide posts for this blog from the volunteer’s point of view, I think it’s time to share stories from others.  Just as the number of runs and volunteers has grown over the months, I want the volunteer voice of this blog to grow from stories you share.  I want to put a face to the names I’ve seen or heard about; I want to know your story.   In fact, if you’re reading this blog, leave your name in the comment section with the run(s) you handle(d) and I’ll find you next Thursday.

I look forward to talking with as many people as I can on the 26th. — Joan


The Holiday Season – Making Unexpected Connections

The Holiday season has a tendency to bring out the worst in people.  This year has proven this theory in spades when I heard about a woman using pepper spray to get an item she wanted while shopping on Black Friday.

Personally, I don’t get this.

I guess I’m one of those individuals who find the true spirit of the holiday season in the quiet, yet unexpected, heartwarming relationships you build with another person.  It hasn’t happened to me for many years, but this year, it has and in the most unlikely way.

I’m a regular runner for Community Plates.  Every Thursday, I pick up the generous donations from Whole Foods in Darien and deliver them to Wilson’s Pantry in Stamford.  In my personal life, I have a tendency to be a bit shy.  I’ll smile, say hi and tell people I’m with Community Plates and am dropping off food from Whole Foods.

I’ve been doing this run for many weeks, but never really gave much thought that I was making a connection with anyone at the shelter.  However, last week when I pulled up, this man was just about to tell me to move my car, but within seconds of pulling up, my main contact (I don’t know his name) came running out and said “No, no, she’s with Community Plates and has a donation for us”.

What I find interesting is that I’ve only mentioned on my first delivery, I’m from Community Plates because every other drop off, this man flies up the basement stairs and as quickly as I pull up and pop my trunk, he’s emptied out its contents.

I still don’t know this man’s name, but that’s okay.  After all these weeks, I didn’t realize that a smile, saying hello, thanks, and see you next week could have created a very strong bond for me.

I knew my original reason for volunteering for Community Plates was to rescue food and put it in the hands of people that would use and appreciate it.  But I love the added benefit of connecting with the people who receive the donations.  I didn’t expect it and find it the best gift of all this holiday season.


Community Plates is Hiring!

Community Plates Needs You!

As always one of our most important needs is food runners, volunteers to transport food…..food runners are the backbone of everything we do.

However because volunteer-driven, direct-transfer food rescue has proben to be such a “right place and right time opportunity”, things are growing fast and we are in need of the following positions. These are initially volunteer positions, but we hope to make several of them paid positions in the coming months  (some of them as early as first quarter 2012) once we can afford to do it.

Some of you have said “I want to help in other ways”, so check these job descriptions out and if you’re interested in being a part in this way let us know!

Office Administrator

  • Key person to help the Executive Director organize schedules
  • Communication
  • Data Entry
  • Light bookkeeping
  • Filing
  • Can split time between home and Community Plates office in Norwalk
  • Coordinate with donors and receiving agencies
  • Food-Rescue supply management
  • 15+ hours per week
  • Social-media savvy a plus but not required

Web Engineer

  • PHP/JQuery/MySQL
  • A few hours per week
  • Remote is fine

Fundraising Partners

  • Raise awareness for American food-insecurity and the promise of volunteer-driven, direct-transfer food-rescue
  • help raise money to advance the cause of ending food-insecurity in Fairfield County
  • Work with Executive Director to develop national fundraising strategy

Volunteer Coordinator

  • manage volunteer recruiting, on-boarding, training, scheduling
  • oversee app engagement and work-flow for volunteers
  • Own an iPhone or an iPad and comfortable using it
  • 15+ hours per week
  • Remote is fine (occasional staff-meetings might require in-office)
  • Work with Executive Director to develop national volunteer-strategy

Donor Coordinator

  • Recruiting new donors, managing donor communication, and food donation process
  • 5+ hours per week
  • Remote is fine (occasional staff-meetings might require in-office)
  • Work with Executive Director to develop national donor strategy

Receiving Agency Coordinator & Development

  • Recruit, train and develop receiving agency (food-pantries, soup-kitchens) relationships
  • Recruit and inspire social-entrepreneurs to leverage Community Plate’s food sources for the purposes of new and creative ways to distribute those foods
  • Entrepreneurial
  • Partner with receiving agencies to help them with their processes
  • Manage ServSafe compliance
  • 8+ hours per week
  • Remote is fine (occasional staff-meetings might require in-office)
  • Work with Executive Director to develop national donor strategy

New Site Development Manager

  • Focused on opportunities outside of Fairfield County
  • New site research and selection process
  • Entrepreneurial
  • Development planning
  • Recruit initial local partners, volunteers, agencies, and donors (leading the way for other other Community Plates staff dedicated to those specific areas)
  • 8+ hours per week

We are also currently developing a team-member description for marketing and public relations in case you’d like to get a jump on that.

Be a part of ending American food-insecurity and have an amazing time doing it!

The Disappearing Middle Class and Need for Food Rescue

I openly admit I hate to watch the news.  Day after day, the format never changes.  Newscasters report of murder, rape, fires, thefts, political scandals – basically, all the things that can easily bring you down.  However, my husband is a news junkie and I’ll occasionally catch the news.

I become angry when they report the unemployment rate is at 9.1%, but they fail to count people like me.  The people who continue to be unemployed after the benefits run out and tap into savings and gifts from friends and family.  It really bothers me that the news only reports the number the government counts and forgets this large population which is now making up the disappearing middle class.

I’ve been hearing a lot more about this problem lately and know that the purse strings are tight in my household, but when I had a chance to visit Gillespie House last week with Kevin Mullins, Executive Director of Community Plates, it became clear just how real this problem has become.

Maryellen Estrada, Director of Gillespie Center in Westport, shared with us that this new economy has changed the dynamics of the people that come to the shelter for meals and food to take home.  Initially when she started at the shelter, it was mainly homeless people, but now, many are people who have fallen on hard times because of the economy.  Ones who once owned homes, rented apartments, traveled, are now scraping by and need the assistance.

In my humble opinion, food insecurity in the U.S. will continue to rise because of this new economy and the disappearance of the middle class.  I like the fact that Community Plates’ volunteers and the businesses Community Plates have partnered with help those in need by the simple concept of rescuing food and giving it to people in need.  — Joan

You Never Know

I recently went to Tanglewood (outdoor concert area in the Berkshires) to see Yo-Yo Ma perform and as I read the program, I noted the various organizations and people who donated over ten million dollars to keep this wonderful arena running. I began to look around at the people who came to the concert and noticed people wearing the latest fashions, great shoes, jewelry and looking as though they just stepped out of a beauty salon.  I bet everyone thought everyone in the area I was sitting in were affluent, or at least working, but they’d wrong.

My sister purchased my ticket for the concert, heck; she paid for my entire weekend.  Until 3 years ago, I was employed and could afford such luxuries, but now things are different and money is tight.  I wonder if the person sitting next to me would guess I was struggling.  He wouldn’t and I know most people would be surprised if they learned about people they know or even work with who may be struggling to make ends meet or put food on the table.

Don’t assume because someone is employed they don’t know where there next meal is coming from.  I was surprised during a conversation with a dear friend that they had accepted food from a local food pantry.  I guess I was surprised because they worked and just naturally assumed that although struggling financially with the extras, the basics were covered.  Wrong.

I’m happy there are food pantries that my friend can tap in to when needed, and I’m glad I volunteer for Community Plates, an organization that assists businesses that want to give excess food to shelters, but don’t have the manpower to drop off the food to local shelters.  If you, or know someone who would like to help others, but don’t have a lot of time – one hour a week or month will help people who you might know, but would never think needed the help.

Think about it.  Wouldn’t you help out a friend if you knew they needed you? — Joan


CPGALA 2011 is a Can’t Miss!!!

It’s our first “get-everyone together and celebrate” experience and I can’t wait!

Yes, it’s a fundraiser because even though we make every effort to keep costs low, the administration, supplies, technology development and expansion of this hunger-conquering food-rescue platform do cost money.  So if you can buy your ticket or become a sponsor it’s a big help!

There will be good music, great food and drink and very little speech-making but I think the best part will be getting to meet team members who I’ve only met in internet-land to this point and the opportunity to celebrate the good work that’s already happened and look forward to all the great food-rescue activity to come.

So if you haven’t got your ticket, would like to become a sponsor or know of someone who’d like to, here’s where you go:  CLICK HERE TO HELP!

See you there!


Ask a Friend, Family Member or Significant Other to Help Rescue Food!

When I decided to donate my time to Community Plates, I asked my husband to do a run with me (okay, I admit, I informed him that we were going to do a run together because I felt it important that he become involved.  Besides, you do things for the one you love because it’s important to them and he also knows I have no issues with him going off fishing various weekends of the year).  Because he works a lot of hours, he has limited time so we picked a Saturday morning run to Whole Foods in Darien.

According to the instructions we were given, we called ahead and picked up the donations where the staff had left them for us.  Although I had told my husband how amazing my run with Kevin to Trader Joes was earlier in the week, I knew he was thinking we were making a run for one solitary loaf of bread.  I knew we weren’t, but sometimes the ‘proof is in the pudding’ and I knew he had to see it for himself.

Luckily, there were large plastic bags (size of garbage bags) filled with packages of various types of bread (hot dog rolls, artisan breads, flat breads) and some baked goods we would drop off at the Open Door Shelter in Norwalk.  I don’t know what was more priceless – the donation from Whole Foods or seeing the enthusiasm in my husband how this stop could make such a difference to a large group of people.  It was like watching a light switch go off and sometimes all the talk in the world can’t flip a switch, but doing the run did.

Our total time at Whole Foods was probably 15 minutes.  Our total time bringing in the donations at Open Door Shelter was probably 5 minutes.  I didn’t time it, but believe we spent more time at the gas station after our run filling up the car.

Here are my thoughts – ask someone to come with you to do one run.  Tell them you’re only asking for them to do one run and watch their expression melt from: “I’m doing this because he/she is my friend/sibling or significant other” to “Wow, look at all this food that will help others and knowing they helped make a difference.”

— Joan


Delivering Out Of The Ordinary Opportunities

Recently I got to see (and participate in) what kind of real difference food-rescue can make.  It’s possible to just pick up and deliver food  yet be disconnected from  the results of the work one has done. It’s always nice to reconnect to the importance of the cause by seeing the results of one’s labor.

On a regular run to a Trader Joe’s location, I picked up a large load of food that included chicken breasts, fresh spinach and onions.  I didn’t pay close attention to those items at the time since my main purpose was to get the food where it needed to be and because these were just a few items among many.

I dropped off the items at The Open Door Shelter in Norwalk, which serves meals to not only the homeless population, but also to other food-insecure individuals and families from the area.   My job was done after loading in the bins.

A few hours later when I went back to pick up the bins I experienced a strong affirmation of the importance of food-rescue and the value of the direct-transfer feature of the Community Plates food-rescue platform.

As I was walking through the kitchen on the way to get our bins, Alex, one of the chefs there called me in with an excited  “Come in here and look!”  Alex opened up one side of the large ovens and pulled out a rack to reveal one of three very large trays of a delicious-smelling, tasty-looking dish.  The dish was primarily composed of the chicken, spinach and onions I had dropped off just a few hours before.

I was impacted first of all by how quickly a difference had been made.  The total time from food-transfer to people eating the food was probably less than five hours.  This “quick-hit” benefit has been confirmed on many subsequent food-rescues as well.  Secondly, I was impressed with the creativity of the chef.  He modified his previous plan for that night’s dinner when he received some high-quality ingredients.  This requires flexibility and imagination and on that day Alex had those in abundance.  Finally, I was encouraged that the residents and clients of The Open Door Shelter got a better meal on that day than they would have otherwise.  It wasn’t just healthier food, but just as importantly it tasted better and out of the ordinary.

How cool is it that we have the chance to make “out of the ordinary” differences in the lives of people who are struggling every day for the most basic of needs?

Unexpected Lasting Impressions

Yesterday I had the opportunity to pair up with Community Plates’ Executive Director Kevin Mullins for my first run.  Kevin had sent the volunteers a list of open ‘runs’ [a run is the pickup of food from a store or restaurant and delivering it to a local shelter (a runner makes these runs)] and Tuesday had an open run to Trader Joe’s in Darien needing 2 people.  I emailed Kevin asking him if I could team up with him for this run and met him at his office prior to the 2:30 pm pickup.

I have to admit, my motives for wanting to do this run with Kevin were twofold:  1) I wanted to go with someone who has done these runs before; and 2) I wanted to learn more about CP.

My expectations were that we’d pick up food and drop it off at a shelter, but I experienced a lot more.  I thought Community Plates won the lotto as Trader Joes’ staff brought out bin after bin of amazing items such as chicken sausage, ground meats and rib-eye steaks.  Other bins had wonderful produce and cereals.  Because of this generous donation , CP was able to drop off food at both Person-to-Person in Darien, CT and Open Door Shelter in Norwalk, CT feeding a lot of people in need.

In addition to just making a run, I got to meet Janet and Alex at Person-to-Person and Open Door Shelter, experiencing their gratitude and also the friendliness of the staff at Trader Joe’s.  It was obvious that the labor of filling up the 9 or 10 bins of great food was something they were happy to do for CP.  I think helping others is infectious, but in a good way.

While driving from the various locations, one of the most memorable conversations with Kevin was discussing the rib-eye steaks.  For many, buying a rib-eye is not something you really give a lot of thought to.  You may wait for them to go on sale if on a budget, but for the recipients who will benefit from this pick-up, imagine their surprise.  Imagine being transported from a basic meal of pasta, rice, or beans and enjoying a decadent rib-eye steak.  If, only for that one meal, a person struggling can feel pampered as the result of a runner taking 1 hour out of their day to pick up and drop off food. — Joan