71% of the people we serve live in poverty. Nearly half of them have had to choose between buying food and paying for utilities, rent, mortgage or medical care.
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
Ernest Hemingway wrote “It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.” For Whately resident Kait Kehoe, her personal goals have led her on a journey which will end with helping to provide more than 3,000 meals to her neighbors in need.
Following a hip injury she suffered while skiing, Kait was left sidelined and inactive for nearly six months. Once fully recovered, she made a commitment to herself to get back into shape. She began eating healthier foods and taking a more proactive approach to exercising. Having fond memories of biking as a child with her parents, she instinctively turned to cycling as a fun opportunity to help her accomplish her long-term goal.
She spent the next two years riding through the scenic small towns of Western Massachusetts. She even kept riding indoors through the winter months. With each active day, she continued to grow her strength, health and confidence. It was not long before Kait decided it was time to set yet another personal goal for herself — completing a 100 mile ride. With so many century rides in the area to choose from, she wanted to pick one that would also help people. The Food Bank’s Will Bike 4 Food event provided the perfect opportunity for her to do that. “I’m very lucky to choose a challenge like this,” she explains. “I want to do it in service of people who don’t get to choose their challenges.”
Kait began her training by riding every weekend, pushing herself to go a little further each time out. She also began to incorporate more hills into her practice routes, an aspect of the ride she admits makes her a little nervous. She has already rode WB4F’s 50 mile loop, and has even completed a 75 mile route.
In a field of more than 170 riders (and growing), Kate is currently one of WB4F’s top fundraisers. She originally hoped to raise the minimum amount of $175. However, with support from her family, friends and co-workers, she managed to quickly raise that amount in less than two weeks. At that point, she set her sights a little higher and established a new goal of $1,000. To help accomplish this, she wrote letters to businesses that she frequented (such as her gym and local bike shop), asking them to contribute to her cause. “Once I shared what my personal goal was, I found that people were happy to support me,” she explains.
Kait’s ride on Sept. 28 will be her first-ever century ride. Her excitement for the event is fueled by her desire to achieve a goal that she didn’t think she could accomplish. Her journey throughout the entire experience has taught her a lot about herself. “I learned that if there is something that I can’t do, then I need to go out and do it!”Comments Off
by Andrew Morehouse, Executive Director at The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts
This past weekend, I was literally “gearing up” for our Will Bike 4 Food annual charity cycling event taking place on Sept. 28th. Can you believe I’m training for my first-ever 100-mile ride? We’ll see how it goes! I rode the first 50-mile loop in the Hilltowns and was blown away by the beauty of our region that we’re so blessed to live in. I saw signature historic New England homes, idyllic businesses, bucolic working farms, stunning vistas, including gorgeous pastoral scenes, and even wildlife. I saw flocks of geese and turkeys, a hawk and a blue heron, and even three deer!
The hard work of cycling up hills paid off when I earned the privilege of swoopin’ down them. What a thrill! What more could anyone ask for…good exercise, connecting with the great outdoors right in your own back yard, a little time to be by yourself (for some spiritual reflection) and/or with close friends…and all for a great cause… to support The Food Bank’s mission to feed our neighbors in need and lead the community to end hunger.
I urge you to join us on Sept. 28th for this great event. Remember, there are routes for all abilities…10, 25, 50 and 100 miles. Visit our event page for all the details and learn how you can become involved.
And, of course, we’ll have music, scrumptious food and beer compliments of the Berkshire Brewing Co. (… for after your ride mind you). Check it out!Comments Off
On July 17, the “Just 5 Days” youth group from Saint Elizabeth Church in Ludlow visited The Food Bank. The students, comprised of middle school and rising high-schoolers, were part of a larger Western Massachusetts group that is taking part in a summer program which allows the students to travel for a week to different areas and participate in community service activities.
Some of the students worked together to write about their experience and what they learned from their visit:
Our experience at The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts was an enlightening opportunity to learn about food insecurity—not only in Massachusetts, but throughout our country. We were each given a living scenario where we had to buy meals for our families with limited money, after paying all our expenses. This activity showed us real-life examples of families facing food insecurity every day. For example, a single mother with three children was left with a food budget of only $25 for the entire week, after paying her expenses.
We also realized that healthier food is more expensive, forcing us to resort to purchasing less healthy foods (such as Ramen Noodles and hot dogs). Foods like these do not provide substantial nutrition, which is essential for the health of all people—especially for the growth and development of children.
Completing this activity gave us a clearer understanding of how food insecure people live every day. It also made our volunteer work of packaging apples, squash and cucumbers more enjoyable and meaningful. We worked in assembly lines to package 3 pound bags of apples and 20 pound boxes of squash and cucumbers. All of the food went to local food programs for families in need of assistance.
Another eye-opening experience during our visit was taking a tour around The Food Bank. Seeing the large amount of food that is needed—rather than being told, or having to read a statistic—allowed us to truly realize the amount of people who are food insecure. We were also able to see how The Food Bank tries to distribute the best quality food by freezing vegetables (or, as one of the workers referred to it, processing through “the beauty pageant” of food).
One of the most inspiring things we saw was the contrast between those who were actually getting paid to do the work, and the vast amount of volunteers willing to work for the cause. We appreciate the great opportunity of touring The Food Bank, and our amazing tour guide.Comments Off
April is National Volunteer Month — a time that we celebrate the people who generously donate their time and talents to support their community.
Throughout the month, our dedicated volunteers will be sharing their experience with volunteering and reflect on how it has impacted their own lives.
Molly Crouser is the Civic Engagement Coordinator at Bay Path College in Longmeadow. She has brought two groups of students in since January, as part of the college’s program which teaches civic responsibility and citizenship through out-of-class activities with the community. The program is focused on raising students’ awareness of the impact they can have on individuals and the world around them.
As the AmeriCorps VISTA at Bay Path College, part of my work plan is to build, support and initiate service opportunities on campus. I initially contacted The Food Bank about volunteering because of their ability to hold a great amount of people for a day-long service event. I kept returning with more students because of the amazing work they do. At The Food Bank, my students have the ability to serve in a way that was meaningful for them and for the Food Bank. They are able to see the difference that their few hours of service are helpful to the organization. Through the educational pieces offered, they are able to learn about hunger and food justice in our region, a place where most of them call home. It is a significant experience for our college students and myself, and we are excited to continue volunteering for them.
Volunteering has made a huge impact on my life, in a very meaningful way. I find happiness in learning about social problems, and finding ways to solve the issues. My personal passions lay in food justice issues. So, being able to directly impact an organization that works to fight poverty through feeding the community is an amazing opportunity. I believe in a strong, vibrant and civically engaged community and volunteer work is my way of expressing that belief.
My favorite part of volunteering is the impact I make, and the influence it has on me. Through a symbiotic relationship, I feel as though volunteering provides me with a connection to my community and a stronger support system. The feeling of being part of something that is bigger than myself, while at the same time making a difference in someone else’s life is integral to my own values and beliefs.
For anyone who is considering volunteering, I would ask what are you passionate about and find a way to give back that is meaningful for you. Giving back time promotes civic responsibility, builds a professional network, helps build community resources and provides a space where people come together towards a common goal. Who wouldn’t want to? What’s stopping you?Comments Off
April is National Volunteer Month — a time that we celebrate the people who generously donate their time and talents to support their community. Throughout the month, our dedicated volunteers will be sharing their experience with volunteering and reflect on how it has impacted their own lives.
Matt Goldman, of Hatfield, has been volunteering at The Food Bank since 2013. Every Monday morning, he heads out to a number of Stop & Shop locations throughout Western Massachusetts, picking up donations for our “Retail Rescue” program. Along with fellow volunteer Ken, they have collected more than 30,000 lbs of quality meats and various frozen goods for the growing number people in our community struggling with food insecurity.
My wife and I had always discussed volunteering and giving back some sort of service to people in need. We live very close to The Food Bank, and in 2013, we decided to go to one of their volunteer orientations. We found everyone to be really friendly and flexible to what we were available to do for their cause.
As a self-employed individual, I am very busy throughout the week. However, there was an opportunity for me to assist in picking up frozen foods in nearby supermarkets. Once I started the volunteer service, I found it very gratifying. I felt that I received more in return just by giving a little time in some small way. Just knowing that I could actually do something “hands on” to help made me feel that I was making a big difference in helping feed hungry people (a basic human right).
I really enjoy spending time in the truck with the assigned driver, who is a great guy. We have created a very cooperative routine. We travel to several supermarkets throughout Western Massachusetts. The procedure requires physical labor, which I believe we both find enjoyable. Each store that we go to has its own personality (if you will), which makes it even more interesting. It’s always different, always fun and we help each other do the most efficient job we can.
Volunteering has been a wonderful way to start off my work week (my volunteer work is Monday mornings). When I’m through, I feel better about myself and the people around me. The other employees at the Food Bank are really friendly people and special in their own individual ways. It feels great knowing that everyone is there working—for whatever length of time—to make the world a better place. We are providing support to human beings that need to “survive” in a world that is getting tougher to survive in all the time.
If you have ever considered volunteering, I would recommend that you just go The Food Bank orientation. There is no pressure. There are no contracts to sign. There are no commitments. I believe if you find the time to give of yourself, you will find it a very special experience. If you add all the volunteer hours together, person by person, it makes a big difference. Just try it. Everyone is welcome!