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
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
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!
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.”
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?
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
I admit, before I did my first run (a run is picking up food from a store or restaurant and dropping it off at a shelter or food pantry) I had heard at the volunteers’ meeting it was really simple and had my doubts. I grew up believing phrases such as “there’s no such thing as a free lunch” and “if it sounds too easy, it’s probably too good to be true”. I figured the founders of Community Plates were trying to encourage volunteers and not mention the true pitfalls of a run. However, as I learned last week, they weren’t hiding anything. It really was as easy and fast as they said it would be.
I went on 2 runs last week. The first one was to Trader Joe’s where I tagged along with Kevin Mullins. Kevin is the Executive Director at Community Plates and I figured if anything went wrong, he’d quickly know what to do. However, there was nothing that went wrong. The process is streamlined. Kevin called ahead and discussed the time Community Plates would come to the store. We pulled up at the loading dock of Trader Joe’s and the staff of Trader Joe’s wheeled out Community Plates’ food bins with food in it. Because Community Plates keeps its food bins on the loading dock, there is never an issue of having to hand the staff bins and waiting for them to load them before heading out to a shelter or food pantry. We dropped off food at 2 places before I headed back to my car at the Community Plates parking lot. This run with 2 stops and some conversation after the run took about 1 hour.
My second run was a solo job. I had no one to rely on to show me the ropes, but after seeing how streamlined the Trader Joes’ run was, I had no doubts. Saturday morning I called Whole Foods in Darien, learned they had some items, and drove over there. I parked by the loading dock, walked in, went to the shelves labeled “Donations”, picked up bags of bread and headed back to my car to drop off at a shelter. It took about 10 minutes to load the car and head on my way to the shelter in Norwalk. This run, including a stop off for gas, took about 40 minutes (and about 10 minutes was spent at the gas station because it was crowded).
Up till last week, I had never done anything like this and wouldn’t hesitate to tell people about my experience – how I had reservations about the ease of doing a run and how happy I am to be proven wrong.
Since the Community Plates food-rescue platform is entirely dependent on passionate, generous volunteers, likewise our ability to quickly make a dent in American food-insecurity is directly tied to our ability to add as many volunteers to our platform as possible.
In this process one question that comes up regularly when people are considering whether or not food-running is a good fit for them is “What kind of vehicle do I need to have?”
It’s an important question and we’re going to answer it pictorially. Our crack research team has turned up the following photos that we hope will help those in the future who are trying to figure out if they’re vehicle is the right one for food-running.
(Note: The point of this pictograph is related to size and capacity. Any brand display is unintentional and is in no way an endorsement of any particular car company.)
This is THE PEFECT VEHICLE FOR FOOD-RESCUE:
And…This is THE PERFECT VEHICLE FOR FOOD-RESCUE:
And the PERFECT VEHICLE FOR FOOD-RESCUE is…
And finally..the PEFECT VEHICLE FOR FOOD-RESCUE
There you have it! Everyone that has inquired (so far) has had the perfect vehicle for food-rescue and we’re betting you do too! The cause is great and we need your help. Join us!
One of the cool things that’s happened as we’ve begun a food-rescue platform is that I’ve had the chance to perform many of the food-rescues myself. I’ve told a few people recently who are toying with the idea of becoming a “food-runner” for Community Plates, “try it once and you’ll want to do it again and again.” I speak from experience.
The benefits to the 100 thousand food-insecure people we are currently trying to serve and over 50 million we hope to serve over the next few years are obvious, but when I talk about getting “addicted” to food-running I’m speaking more about the way it benefits the one who performs the food-rescue; the volunteer.
There is a intrinsic benefit to the volunteer built into the food-rescue process. In a word, it’s community. Now I know the dictionary defines community as a group of people who have something in common; geography, culture, interests etc. But what I have in mind is something more personal…more shared.
First of all, I look forward to seeing the people that I see on my regular runs, and I think that most of them look forward to seeing me. When I walk through a restaurant kitchen and give a shout-out to the crew there or when I’m hanging out briefly on the loading dock at a grocery store, it’s more than just familiarity that makes us enjoy seeing each other, but the ongoing-realization that we are sharing something or joining together in accomplishing something important.
When I was away recently it all become clear. I realized that these generous people, our donors who give and our partners who receive and distribute the food are becoming friends, and I missed seeing them. And they’re not just “nodding-acquaintances” like you might run into on the elevator every day, but these are friends that are working with me to make a difference.
I can’t wait for my food-rescue runs later today!!! Give it a try and you’ll do it again and again.