Do you remember the first time you tried kale? Celery root? What about Swiss chard? If you didn’t grow up eating these produce items frequently grown here in the North Country, you might understand how turning an unfamiliar bunch of greens or a strange-looking root into an appealing meal can be a real stumper.
For someone who has the means to buy any of the wide variety of fruits and vegetables available in grocery stores, it may be surprising to realize that when you are living below the poverty line, shopping in that section of the grocery store may be a luxury. “Many folks living on a low income struggle with health issues such as diabetes, high blood pressure, gluten intolerance, and obesity,” notes Rebecca O’Berry, president of the Randolph Area Food Shelf. “Yet their access to healthy food like fruits and vegetables is really restricted.”
For years, Rebecca and the staff at the Randolph Area Food Shelf struggled with how to change this situation, how to get more produce to their shoppers and help them know what to do with it once they had it. “We’ve tried cooking demonstrations,” explains Rebecca, “with crock pots and cookbooks donated by the Rotary Club. We tried many different things, but we found that people just don’t really know what to do with them.”
For more than 40 years, the Randolph Area Food Shelf has worked to provide food assistance to people in need in the communities of Randolph, Braintree, Brookfield, and East Granville, Vermont. With a mission to “help create a community where every individual has access to sufficient food,” the Food Shelf works very hard all year long to come up with ways to solve problems of food insecurity and limited access to fresh produce.
The last couple of years has seen a focus on efforts to “get ahead” of the project in the off-season, so that by the time the growing season came around they had partnered with some local farms to pre-buy vegetables. The Food Shelf has always enjoyed the support of some generous farmers in the area, but these donations are not predictable in terms of timing or type of produce. Now, the Food Shelf has a more reliable and predictable source of vegetables.
The Vermont Foodbank has put considerable energy into working with food shelves with this initiative, and helped the Randolph Area Food Shelf get nicer presentation baskets and stands. And in an effort to help folks know what to do with unfamiliar items, they began putting identifying information and preparation suggestions on display cards with the produce. Their recipe of the month uses items that are generally available at the Food Shelf. Shoppers are welcome to take a bag that contains a recipe card and all the ingredients necessary to make it. Simple!
To increase their reach, the Randolph Area Food Shelf distributes Staple Bags at all Gifford primary care clinics, as well as at Capstone Community Action locations and the Kimball Library. These bags, branded with the Gifford name so as not to advertise that they are food bags, contain staple items such as peanut butter, crackers, soup, applesauce or canned fruit, pasta, pasta sauce, canned meat, canned veggies, the occasional cereal, and shelf stable milk. There are also a couple of toothbrushes and information about local services such as VeggieVanGo locations and dates, information about how Gifford's Community Health Team can help support them, news about local food shelves, and HealthHub dental services flyers. The bag contains enough to feed a family of two for a day or so, with larger families receiving two bags.
Recognizing that, for some kids, the meals they get through the free and reduced price school lunch program are their only daily meal, the Food Shelf in 2014 launched a program to provide free lunches five days a week during the summer when those school lunches are not available. The School Kids Program, or SKiP, was expanded later that first year to include the February and April school vacation weeks.
Last year, the Randolph Area Food Shelf served 1,089 families, or 2,735 people total, and logged 4,114 volunteer hours. Donations are crucial to keeping The Randolph Area Food Shelf afloat, and they put the fun in fundraiser by organizing the annual Sufficient Food for All Walk-a-thon. This beautiful walk along backcountry roads raises funds to help the Food Shelf serve the community throughout the year. On-leash dogs are welcome, and with distances from 1.0 to 10.8 miles, the event is fun for the whole family. Light refreshments, music, and prizes cap it off.
Mascoma Bank is proud to support the Randolph Area Food Shelf in its mission to ensure access to healthy food for all people, and we invite you to join us in supporting groups that make our communities healthier and happier. Visit the Randolph Area Food Shelf donations page for more information.