During most days of the week, Linda Milewski can be found in The Food Bank warehouse, sorting food and training new volunteers. As she lives just down the road, she walks or rides her bike over when the weather permits. She has been volunteering at The Food Bank for fifteen years and regularly goes beyond the call of duty to give back.
Raised in Whately, Linda has lived in Hatfield for 42 years. She and her husband made the move after getting married, and have lived in the same house ever since. Following a 20 year career with the Hatfield Public Schools, Linda now spends her time tending to the 31 fruit trees she has planted in her yard. She enjoys canning fruit, jam and jelly — some of which she sells at local craft fairs. And of course, she spends much of her time at The Food Bank.
“My friend Helen was a volunteer. She said ‘Are you bored? Come with me!’” explains Linda. That was in 2000 — and she has been at The Food Bank ever since.
In that time, she has gotten to know a lot of the staff, including Food Processing Coordinator Kate Albrecht. Linda has learned so much in her time here that she received a special “Kate’s Stunt Double” award at our Volunteer Appreciation Picnic in the fall, recognizing her ability to fill in for Kate when she is out.
This title became especially literal when Kate recently broke her arm and was out for an extended period of time. Upon learning of Kate’s injury, Linda offered to fill in and has been voluntarily working full-time hours, making sure that the essential process of food sorting continues to run smoothly.
“We’re super lucky to have her,” says Justin Costa, Warehouse Coordinator. “Linda has been here so long she knows the routine and the other volunteers. Knowing she’s back there, I know it’s under control.”
Linda finds it especially rewarding to see how quickly the food arrives and is then distributed to those who need it. Often times, she says, fresh produce arrives and is picked up by local food pantries so quickly that unless you were in the warehouse, you’d never know it was even here.
“She has a great sense of humor and pretty much fills any room with good energy,” says Erin Sullivan, Volunteer Coordinator at The Food Bank. “She’s also very smart and has an incredible understanding of the best ways to set up and execute sorting projects. If we have a one-time group and Linda is running the show, I know they’re going to have a clear idea of what they’re supposed to do.”
Linda is truly a member of The Food Bank family and her hard work and dedication is appreciated by the entire staff.
“She’s really great,” says Justin. “We try to tell her at least three times a day.”Comments Off
by Andrew Morehouse, Executive Director at The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts
I was really inspired recently and here’s why: I was privileged to bear witness to the founding convention of Berkshire Interfaith Organizing, or BIO, a new county-wide organization self-described as a “faith- and values-based multi-issue organization that will build community, develop leadership skills and tackle problems such as hunger/food insecurity that affect poor and working poor families in the Berkshires.”
It was very moving to watch 200 religious and lay leaders come together, based on their shared moral principles, in defense of the most vulnerable residents in towns and cities across the Berkshires. Founded by fourteen Catholic, Protestant and Jewish congregations, members of its Food Security Team visited The Food Bank several months ago to learn more about us and food insecurity in our region. We agreed that advocating for more state funding for nutritious food, through the Massachusetts Emergency Food Assistance Program (MEFAP), is just one of many ways we can and will work together to advance our mission “to feed our neighbors in need and, [together], lead the community to end hunger.”
We congratulate BIO for taking this bold and much-need stand, and look forward to collaborating with them in the future.Comments Off
On Sunday, March 8, hundreds of runners of all ages and skill levels will gather at Look Park in Florence and participate in a fun day of exercise to help make a difference in the community. For the past 22 years, the Western Area Massachusetts Dietetic Association (WAMDA) has held a 5k Run and Health Fair during National Nutrition Month. The event is a fundraiser to benefit The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts. Since their first race in 1993, WAMDA have raised more than $33,800 to help feed our neighbors in need.
WAMDA is a voluntary non-profit association through which local dieticians support each other professionally and spread the word about who dieticians are and what they do. For WAMDA, part of promoting optimal nutrition and well-being in our community is taking a stand against hunger.
Whether you are a serious athlete or prefer to walk the 3 miles around the park, you will fit right in. There are cash prizes for first place for both men and women and also prizes for runners by age group if you are feeling competitive. At the end of the day, everyone is a winner for helping make sure our neighbors have access to nutritious food.
“One thing we’re really concerned with is food security and making sure there is good nutrition for people of all backgrounds,” says WAMDA member Lisa Wilby, who organizes the run. “It’s not just buying the food — it’s knowing what food to eat. The education that both WAMDA and The Food Bank provide makes a big difference in people’s lives.”
Hunger is not just about lack of food; it’s also about lack of nutritious food. The Food Bank’s nutrition program works to provide numerous resources to our partner agencies and their clients including taste tests, cooking demonstrations, and distributing healthy recipes at our Mobile Food Bank and Brown Bag: Food for Elders locations. They also teach clients how to make delicious meals with unfamiliar vegetables, such as beets and squash.
WAMDA shares this passion for education. Their run is unique from other races in that it features a Health Fair inside Look Park’s heated Garden House, complete with a post-race meal. The Health Fair is open to the public, which means that even while the runners are out, the Garden House is bustling with activity. This year, dieticians will be available to discuss sports nutrition, nutrition’s role in long term care, how to navigate the grocery store, and more. Runners will have the opportunity to have their blood pressure taken and discuss their gate with a professional. Available once again this year will be the ever-popular chair massage station.
“The goal of everyone in nutrition is to educate people how to make healthier choices,” says Diane Alpern, Nutrition Coordinator at The Food Bank, and a WAMDA member. “Our hope is that more people hear this message so that when they are in the bread aisle they pick a whole wheat bread over a white bread. By helping the head of a household learn how to provide healthier foods at no higher cost we are able to positively impact the quality of children’s diets.”
The 22nd Annual WAMDA 5K Run/Walk will be held Sunday March 8, 2015 at Look Park in Florence. The Health Fair in the Garden House will begin prior to the race at 10 am. Runners will begin the race at 11am.
To register for the race, or to get more information, visit: http://www.wamda.org/events/wamda-5k-road-race
Runners will receive a free performance long sleeved t-shirt if they preregister by February 21st. Registration is open until March 1st. Registration costs $23 online and $30 in person.
For helpful training tips visit: https://www.facebook.com/WAMDA5k.Comments Off
Fall is a special time of year. The leaves are changing color, the weather is getting colder, and most importantly people across America are giving thanks and giving back. In true Thanksgiving fashion, The Food Bank received an outpouring of support this November.
Throughout the month, volunteer groups visited The Food Bank to make a difference in our community, helping sort a combined total of 38,500 pounds of food:
Companies also made generous donations which will go far this holiday season and throughout the year:
There was also an unprecedented amount of events putting the “fun” in “fundraising:”
We are truly grateful for how generous the community has been this November. With the winter months approaching, many families are beginning to have to choose between making a trip to the grocery store and heating their homes. Your support brings us closer to living in a community where no one goes hungry and everyone has access to nutritious food.Comments Off
On Monday November 10, three cars pulled up to the loading dock at The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts filled with children, mothers, and a half ton of peanut butter and jelly. Lavery Greenfield, an 8-year-old student at Hatfield Elementary School, organized a peanut butter and jelly drive which collected a total of 1,009 pounds throughout the month of October.
Lavery enlisted six of her friends to help— Sierra, Lucia, Oona, Vivien, Ursula and Lucy. The girls collected donations at Hatfield Elementary School, Smith College Campus School and Hilltown Cooperative Charter Public School. To help promote the drive, they created flyers and posters. An email was sent out to families of students at Hatfield Elementary School, and Lavery made an announcement over the loudspeaker to make sure everyone at school knew that the drive was happening. They even received support from The Smith College Campus School, which engaged their entire 3rd grade class in the drive as a school-wide service project.
“All the schools had kids that donated,” said Lavery. “Families and neighbors donated, too. I even had three relatives that donated from California and Oregon.”
The 1,000 pounds of peanut butter was sorted at The Food Bank by volunteers from the Longmeadow Kids Care Club, to be distributed to their 250 partner agencies in time for the holiday season.
This is the second peanut butter & jelly drive that Lavery has organized. The first, which she conducted in October 2013 with the help of her parents, collected 247 pounds from Hatfield Elementary School and at the Greenfield’s home.
She was first inspired to organize a food drive after she and her family attended The Food Bank’s first ‘Family Volunteer Day’ during September 2013, and learned that 1 in 5 kids in Western Massachusetts are facing hunger. She brainstormed ideas with her mother, determined to figure out how she could help. She recalled that during their tour of The Food Bank, they also learned that peanut butter is one of the items most needed and requested by food pantries and meal sites throughout Berkshire, Franklin, Hampden and Hampshire Counties.
“It’s really awesome how she’s done it more than once,” says Jerod Shuford, Education Coordinator at The Food Bank. “When someone really takes the cause to heart, it makes a huge difference to us.”
From a cost perspective peanut butter and jelly drives are effective because these items can be expensive. It is a kid-friendly food that goes a long way. For families that are facing food insecure, peanut butter is an item that can yield many meals.
Lavery’s parents, Chris and Renée Greenfield, could not be more proud of the initiative their daughter took to help feed her neighbors in need.
“The Food Bank’s most precious clients are children,” says Renée. “When children help children, the hope is that this practice will continue through adulthood.”Comments Off
Cheney Orchards has donated 66,942 pounds of apples to The Food Bank this season, but it hasn’t functioned as a commercial orchard in over ten years. David Cheney shut down the orchard, which his grandfather started over 100 years ago in 1911, to retire in 2001. Despite still being a successful business, which at its height boasted 10,000 trees spread over 65 acres and two retail operations, Cheney stopped picking and selling apples. Cheney’s children all had careers so there was simply no one to take over. After ten years out of the apple business, Cheney was inspired by a newspaper article to reopen a portion of his orchard to give back to the community.
“I saw an article in the Worcester Telegram and Gazette about Community Harvest,” says Cheney, speaking of the North Grafton based non-profit which organizes volunteers to grow fresh produce for those who otherwise wouldn’t have access to it. “So I asked if they wanted some apples.”
Soon Community Harvest Project was sending volunteers to pick the apples that Cheney was once again growing. As Community Harvest is based in Central Massachusetts the apples were donated to the Worcester County Food Bank. The partnership was fruitful but Cheney hungered for more.
“I wanted to send some to Hampden County since that’s where we’re located,” says Cheney. “So last year I just sent some apples to The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts.”
The apples Cheney sent to The Food Bank in 2013 totaled 24,000 pounds making the word “some” a bit of an understatement. This year, Cheney has worked with The Food Bank to organize volunteer groups with the plan of doubling that amount- the apples ultimate destination being The Food Bank’s Brown Bag: Food for Elders and Mobile Food Bank programs.
But before the apples reach our neighbors in need they must be picked, which is a truly enjoyable experience. Volunteers arrive at the base of a large hill. During the ride up they are treated to a fantastic view of the scenic orchard. If they are lucky they might even spot a blue heron or two in one of the ponds scattered about the rolling hills.
Upon reaching the orchard Cheney, or his daughter Susan, give some tips for effective picking and pass out half peck bags which hold about 16 medium sized apples. The volunteers then move down the lines of trees picking the branches clean of their ripe fruit. The trees are low enough that most of the picking can be done on foot, but every now and then a ladder is required. As the bags fill with apples they are collected into bushel boxes which quickly turn into large stacks. There are a lot more apples on a tree than you may expect.
Volunteer groups who have traveled to the orchard this year include Y.O.U. Inc., Mass Mutual, UMass Sustainable Agriculture students, Hyde Manufacturing, Saver’s Coop, the State Auditor’s Office, Ware Adult Learning Center and Country Bank. Around 100 volunteers visited the orchard in total, spending over 50 hours picking the thousands of apples. And that isn’t including the time that the Cheney family put in themselves, including David picking on his own which he did on many occasions. On the last picking day, David’s son rounded up a group of his realtor coworkers, and David’s wife Vickie got a group of her friends together, and along with the rest of the Cheney family they picked more than any other group this season – about 180 cases, or 7,200 pounds of apples.
Last season the orchard donated 34,947 pounds of apples. Combined with this season’s 66,942 pounds, that’s 101,889 pounds of apples, or 88,000 meals for Western Mass people in need that Cheney Orchard has provided this year.
“There’s a reason for the old expression ‘An apple a day keeps the doctor away,’” says Lisa Limont, Food Sourcing Coordinator at The Food Bank, who organized the volunteer picking program with Cheney. “Apples are a nutritional powerhouse, with many direct and indirect health benefits. In the context of hunger and food insecurity, it’s hard to imagine a more perfect meal – easy to store, easy to eat and full of sweet juicy goodness. The Cheney family has done a good deed for The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts – 88,000 times!”
After this season, David plans to give retirement another go. He has no plans to sell his orchard but he has entertained the idea of finding someone to continue to run it. No matter what the future of the orchard holds, David Cheney can rest easy knowing that he put delicious fresh apples in the hands of thousands of his neighbors who needed them most.Comments Off
During Hunger Action Month, businesses and organizations have an opportunity to take steps to have a lasting and meaningful impact on our community. Through participating, donating and advocating, we all have a role to play in getting food to our neighbors in need. Inspired by this opportunity, one local business takes the idea to a new level. Not only do they get involved— they use it as a chance for some friendly competition.
Operating as one of the nation’s largest private truck fleets, Performance Food Service delivers more than 150,000 national and proprietary-branded food and food-related products to food service locations across the country. For Hunger Action Month, the company developed a competition amongst its 100+ national branches to encourage employee involvement in giving back to the community. Every year, their employees earn points for their branch by volunteering their time (10 points for every hour), donating food (1 point for a pound), and donating money (1 point for every dollar). At the end of September a winning branch is crowned. This year, the Springfield office got creative with their events, going above and beyond to make a go for the gold.
Fittingly, Performance Foodservice Springfield kicked off Hunger Action Month by going orange. Prizes were awarded for the most creative, the best use of orange, and the “orangest participant.” Throughout the month associates could loosen their dress code for Jeans Fridays by donating $5 per Friday, $10 for every Friday in September, or (if they really love denim) $50 to make every day in September a little more casual. Weekly raffles allowed associates to exchange donated canned goods for tickets in the hopes of winning prizes, and every week there were multiple events to raise awareness and funds ranging from a ‘pay what you can’ soup luncheon to a Carnival Day.
“We got a little more aggressive in getting senior staff members involved in raising funds this year,” says Joe Reardon, Vice President of Marketing and Procurement. They had a ‘Go Orange Pie Throwing Contest.’ The department that raised the most money in a senior staff member’s name got to throw pie in their face. They also held an outdoor barbeque and picnic, where employees could pay three cans (or $3) for 5 balls for the dunk tank, in the hopes of dunking senior staff members. They even had a contest where a senior member who had the most money raised in their name had their head shaved.
Every event was well attended and the response from employees was great. At the end of the month the office donated 3,000 pounds of food to Loraine’s Soup Kitchen in Chicopee and nearly 500 pounds of food to The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts. In total, approximately $4,000 was raised to benefit The Food Bank. All and all, this earned Performance Foodservice’s Springfield office around 7,500 points for the national competition. While another office made a large office donation and won, Reardon is hopeful for next year.
“We donate throughout the year to Lorraine’s Soup Kitchen and The Food Bank,” says Reardon. “Our goal for next year’s competition is to do a lot better than the year before. We want to keep it fun and raise more money than the previous year.”Comments Off
Elske Smith is proof that you don’t need to be a farmer by profession to provide fresh produce to our neighbors in need in Western Massachusetts. Elske is a senior living at Kimball Farms Life Care in Lenox, Massachusetts. This season, she has provided Berkshire County pantries and meal sites with an amazing 150 pounds of fresh produce. This was her third year growing vegetables — and she is completely self-taught.
Elske is Dutch by birth but has spent much of her life living in the United States. She first came to America when her father, a diplomat in the Netherlands Consulate was posted to Boston. Although he was transferred some time later, she stayed on, going to high school and college here. Following a rewarding career as an astronomer- and later the Dean of the College of Humanities and Sciences at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Virginia- Elske retired to Lenox, owning a home before moving to Kimball Farms.
“I came to Lenox because my son lives in the area, in Becket, and I liked the idea of being close to him and his family.” says Elske. “I was very familiar with New England, having gone to college in Cambridge at Radcliffe.”
Elske hadn’t been much of a gardener before moving to Kimball Farms. However, upon discovering their community garden, she was inspired. As a member of the Unitarian Universalist church in Pittsfield she had seen all the good that their community garden (started by member Eddie O’Toole) accomplished by growing vegetables to donate. She decided to give it a go herself. While most of the Kimball Farms residents grow flowers in the raised gardens, Elske began researching how to efficiently grow food for those who need it most.
“A friend told me about ‘Square Foot Gardening,’” says Elske. “There is a book by Mel Bartholomew, as well as a website; I have referred to both. The concept is ideally suited to raised gardens with limited space.”
Square foot gardening is a system for small but intensively planted gardens that are easily accessible and use space resourcefully. The garden is divided into a grid, as opposed to the rows of vegetables common on farms. Elske began planting a variety of vegetables in her three by fifteen foot raised garden, utilizing the square foot gardening system. It wasn’t very long before she was donating green beans, zucchini, squash, lettuce, kale, tomatoes and onions.
“It’s fun!” says Elske. “It is great to see vegetables growing till ready for harvesting and it is very satisfying to know that my vegetables may be helping to supply needy people with healthy produce.”
Once a week she harvests her vegetables and collects produce her fellow gardeners wish to contribute to take to the Berkshire Community Action Council in Pittsfield. The vegetables are then distributed by The Food Bank’s Agency Resource Coordinator Alan Dallmann and volunteer Manzelle Morton to local agencies at the Berkshire Community Action Council Depot Drop.
This year Elske’s produce went primarily to Barton’s Crossing (a shelter in Pittsfield), South Congregational Church and First United Methodist Church & Christian Center (meal sites in Pittsfield), and the Berkshire Food Project (a meal site in North Adams). It is safe to say that over 250 people have eaten her vegetables this year.
It came as a surprise to Elske to learn she had donated 150 pounds of produce this season. “I didn’t realize that our contribution would add up to so much,” said Elske. “I guess it was a good season.”Comments Off
The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts is proud to announce that we are one of 30 food banks to be awarded grants this September from BJ’s Charitable Foundation. The foundation is distributing grants in celebration of BJ’s Wholesale Club’s 30th anniversary. As a member of the Feeding America network, The Food Bank is among those awarded gifts to increase the food storage capacity for local anti-hunger organizations.
We will utilize the $21,000 grant award to provide 8 local partner agencies with 5 needed refrigerators and 5 freezers. This increase in capacity will allow these agencies to distribute an increase of approximately 90,000 pounds of food over a nine month period.
“We are thrilled to have been awarded one of the 30th anniversary grants by BJ’s Charitable Foundation,” said Andrew Morehouse, Executive Director at The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts. “This grant will allow us to support our local partners in the emergency food network, and help them distribute more healthy food to our neighbors in need.”
The agencies receiving the awards include:
While food banks often have space and storage to provide product for the food pantries and shelters they support, these smaller partner organizations and charities usually have limited equipment abilities, potentially hindering them from meeting the full need of their community. By providing anti-hunger partners like food pantries, shelters and meal programs with the necessary equipment, they can transport and store a larger amount of perishable items and thus distribute more food to local families struggling with food insecurity.
“BJ’s Wholesale Club is proud to reach our 30-year milestone and share our enthusiasm by expanding our role in the fight against hunger,” said John Kane of BJ’s Wholesale Club in Chicopee. “Supporting The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts and their local agencies’ need for capacity building will ensure that perishable food can reach the people who need it most in our own backyard.”Comments Off
Volunteers are essential to The Food Bank’s mission to feed our neighbors in need and lead the community to end hunger. Without the hard work and dedication of our volunteers, we wouldn’t be able to accomplish all we do for the community. As always, our volunteers have been going above and beyond.
This year to date 1,360 individuals have dedicated their time to help create a Western Massachusetts where no one goes hungry and everyone has access to nutritious food, including:
One volunteer who has truly made a difference this year has been Mikee Guzman, who received the Newcomer of the Year Award at our recent Volunteer Appreciation Picnic. Mikee has helped with just about every aspect of our work. He has sorted food donations, helped at events, cooked for nutrition, translated recipes into Spanish, provided outreach at Mobile Markets, and tabled to help spread the word about both The Food Bank and our Will Bike 4 Food fundraising event. Mikee is truly a jack of all trades and a driven hard worker as well. Since he began volunteering in March, Mikee has put in 90 hours volunteering at The Food Bank this year so far.
“My main motivation for volunteering is to give back to members of the community that are a part of my students’ and my student’s families’ daily lives,” said Mikee, who teaches Spanish at Westfield State University. “In college there are people who are hungry- who are food insecure. This gives me access to a way to give back and make a difference.”
According to Volunteer Coordinator Erin Sullivan, one of the most impressive moments in Mikee’s time volunteering with the Food Bank was when he took it upon himself to speak at an evening film event he heard about at a Bike Week Breakfast, which was happening later that same day.
“He got up and spoke very eloquently about us and the event, and he had only been a volunteer for maybe two and a half months,” she said. “Just the fact that he took the initiative to go, and to do it on his own time was quite impressive.”
You too can take action and make an impact in our community. To learn more about our volunteer program, and how you can get involved, visit the ‘volunteer’ page of our web site.Comments Off