The Power of Partnerships

How The Food Bank and Rachel’s Table are Making a Difference in Western Massachusetts.

(left to right) Rachel’s Table  volunteers Margot Seefeld, Betteann Rodzwell, and Karen Rafferty.

The Food Bank and Rachel’s Table, a local food rescue organization, were both founded on the belief that food is a fundamental human right, and that hunger is an injustice in a world that produces more than enough food to go around. Each organization has its own approach to our shared mission. In recent years, we have formed an important partnership to make the local emergency food network stronger and more efficient.

In 1992, Rachel’s Table was founded by the Jewish Federation of Western Massachusetts. The Springfield-based nonprofit utilizes its large network of volunteers to collect food that would otherwise go to waste from restaurants, businesses, and farms and deliver it to local food pantries and meal sites whether they are members of The Food Bank or not.

Rachel’s Table’s guiding principle is the concept of tikkun olam – a Hebrew phrase that means “repair of the world.” Rachel’s Table serves three counties through food rescue and purchasing programs, gleaning, known as the Bea’s Harvest initiative, and Growing Gardens, a program that trains and supports a network of agency-gardeners to establish and maintain gardens in partnership with those they serve. Rachel’s Table programs additionally foster youth engagement and leadership, food justice education, and interfaith collaboration.

With the recognition that The Food Bank and Rachel’s Table could more efficiently serve our overlapping communities by working in tandem, we formed a partnership in 2019 to maximize our respective strengths. We both have strong connections with stores such as Big Y and Stop & Shop that regularly donate large quantities of food to both of us. Rachel’s Table has a large volunteer base that is willing to pick up food and distribute it directly through both volunteer cars and Rachel’s Table’s refrigerated van. With careful coordination across all involved, Rachel’s Table volunteers pick up this donated food from stores and bring it immediately to food pantries and meal sites. The beauty of this partnership is that it both eliminates member wait times and additional processing at The Food Bank warehouse and frees up The Food Bank’s trucks to extend delivery service to more members.

Rachel’s Table’s new refrigerated truck rescuing food from MGM Springfield.

Resource sharing is another important advantage to a collaborative approach to hunger relief. When the Rachel’s Table Teen Board expressed interest in getting more involved in advocacy work, they reached out to The Food Bank’s Public Policy Manager, Laura Sylvester, to learn how to get involved in local and statewide public policy education and advocacy on food insecurity.

Each organization has also taken separate but parallel paths to increase access to healthy food. Fresh produce can be hard to come by due to its short shelf life; getting it from the farm to the tables of those who need it must be done quickly and carefully to ensure the food is still fresh when it arrives. Both The Food Bank and Rachel’s Table have developed partnerships with local farmers to expedite this process. For The Food Bank, this involves taking large-scale donations, growing food on its own farms, and purchasing food directly from farmers with state funding.

Rachel’s Table takes a different approach by activating its volunteer network to ‘glean’ food leftover after initial harvesting through its Bea’s Harvest Initiative. Both organizations are also launching programs aimed at teaching community members to grow their own food – helpful tools to drive education, community collaboration, and resiliency.

In the nonprofit space, where ongoing operations require community support, the urge to compete for resources too often gets in the way of forming meaningful partnerships. Our partnership understands there is no one-size-fits-all solution to hunger. Hunger is the result of a wide range of underlying causes, requiring an equally wide range of problem solvers and solutions. Through collaborative problem-solving, The Food Bank and Rachel’s Table create an abundance of ideas and resources to strengthen the emergency food network in Western Massachusetts.