By Christine Stein and Caroline Conena, Barnstable County Department of Human Services
While many view Cape Cod as a wonderful vacation destination, an increasing number of year-round residents experience housing and food insecurity because of a high cost of living and relatively low earnings. The Cape Cod Hunger Network comprises nearly 40 food pantries and meal programs across Cape Cod, and these organizations assist thousands of individuals and families to meet their food needs.
The Cape Cod Hunger Network is very resourceful and looks for innovative ways to increase food donations. One such project is Healthy Foods on Pantry Shelves, which encourages shoppers to donate healthy non-perishable foods. The project benefits 21 food pantries and is a collaboration of:
In December 2010, Healthy Foods on Pantry Shelves launched Cape-wide. This launch followed a very successful pilot in Falmouth initiated by Brenda Swain, Director of the Falmouth Service Center, Jack Loughman (Vocational Coordinator) and Andrew Edes (consumer) of Cape Abilities, and Falmouth Stop & Shop Manager, Lino Lema.
In brief, each Cape Cod Stop & Shop store permits a disability agency worker and volunteer assistant to place tags on food shelves to bring attention to pantry requested healthy food items. The worker and volunteer assistant pick up donations weekly and deliver them to their designated food pantry, where they sort the items and complete a donation inventory. Healthy Foods on Pantry Shelves accrues approximately $40,000 of donations annually and has encouraged a wider variety of food donations. Below, Caroline Conena, a recent Barnstable County Human Services intern, reflects on other successful aspects of this project.
This summer, I had the chance to shadow Cape Abilities Vocational Coordinator, Jack Loughman, to learn more about Healthy Foods on Pantry Shelves. Every Tuesday and Thursday, Jack would go out with either Sandra deAlmeida or Andrew Edes, his Cape Abilities volunteer assistants, to pick up food donations at their designated Stop & Shops.
During my first outing, I met Jack and Sandra at the Stop & Shop in Mashpee. I immediately noticed Sandra’s engagement with the project as she told me about the process and asked me questions. Throughout the day, Jack had Sandra practice her safety skills before crossing the street and walking near cars. Inside, she practiced her people skills, informing customer services they had come for two donations, and greeting Cape Abilities friends who worked in the store. As Sandra put the donations in the cart, Jack reminded her to place heavy items beneath light ones and not to overfill the bags. Jack’s incorporation of social learning made me realize the importance of this project beyond grocery store sales, donations bins, and pantry contributions.
After loading the donations in the car, we headed to Christ the King food pantry in Mashpee. Upon arrival, a volunteer brought out a cart to carry the donation bags, while three more greeted us at the door. In the kitchen, Sandra sorted the food as Jack recorded their inventory. There was something special about letting Sandra organize the food at her own pace and feel needed. Many volunteers knew Sandra and made it a point to say hello and introduce themselves to me. On our way out, the pantry volunteers encouraged Jack to take the leftover bread since they were going to throw it out. Jack helped Sandra find healthy bread she could eat and picked up a few loaves for her day program. It was a touching end to the day, demonstrating how kindness can come full circle and how the food pantry, Cape Abilities, and Stop & Shop, can assist one other.
The following week I met Jack and his Thursday assistant, Andrew, at the Falmouth Stop & Shop. Again, the trip began with lessons such as having Andrew ride the elevator alone or Jack parking far away to point out vehicle hazards. On our way in, Jack mentioned, “You need to have a PhD to be in this field: perspective, humor, and dedication.” Even during our brief outings, I’d say he had all of them. Once inside the store, Jack and Andrew began switching old shelf tags (aka shelf talkers) with new ones. They placed the shelf tags near the healthy food being promoted for donation. Jack made it a game, challenging us to find the old shelf tags before him. Andrew pushed the cart down the aisle, politely stating, “after you” or “go ahead.” After collecting the store’s donations, they dropped them off at the Falmouth Service Center pantry, where Andrew organized the food and broke down boxes for the dumpster.
The two mornings I spent with Jack, Sandra, and Andrew were extremely uplifting. Observing Cape Abilities’ involvement allowed me to see the project from a different perspective, one I never would have understood had I not gone out, followed Jack and his volunteer assistants, and watched them make a difference. Through Healthy Foods on Pantry Shelves, Sandra and Andrew are actively involved in the community and learn about healthy foods. Even Jack says this is his way of giving back. The project reaches across many community sectors and benefits everyone involved from the for-profit grocery stores to the non-profit organizations to Cape residents needing help with food.
Later, I also followed another Cape Abilities staff member, Roger Houle and his volunteer assistant, Aaron Fiero at the Harwich Stop & Shop. Roger gave me insight about the project too, while Aaron exemplified another devoted volunteer who “always does an awesome job.” Cape-wide, teams like Roger and Aaron are playing an important role in getting food donations to pantries and people in need.
The Cape Cod Hunger Network and many others are very appreciative of all those who contribute to this effort, with a very special thank you to Stop & Shop and the disability agency staff and volunteer assistants from Cape Abilities, Community Connections, Seven Hills, and Transitions Centers.
See too A Year of Filling Pantry Shelves, by Debi at Cape Abilities