Burlington Community Food Pantry’s newest partner is food rescuer Lovin’ Spoonfuls
by Chris Warren
February 19, 2016
The Burlington Union
Tucked away in a building on St. Mark’s Episcopal Church grounds off Terrace Hall Avenue, the Burlington Community Food Pantry was humming with activity.
About a dozen volunteers — all Burlington residents — arrived midmorning. Nonperishable foods, such as canned soup and boxed cereal, had already been sorted and shelved. However, perishable foods had to be readied for clients that would be arriving between noon and 1:30 p.m. on Feb. 10.
To accomplish this, volunteers took produce, dairy and meat out of refrigerators and arranged them in baskets, bins and coolers.
The oranges, apples, iceberg lettuce and cucumbers are a standing donation from the Rotary Club of Burlington for many years. The cauliflower, cabbage, potatoes (regular and sweet), clementines and onions were from the Greater Boston Food Bank, picked up by a volunteer willing to drive a truck into Boston and bring the food back to the pantry. The peppers, broccoli, baby arugula, baby romaine and fennel were delivered by Lovin’ Spoonfuls the day before, a new food pantry partner that has come on board within the last nine months.
To round out the produce selection on this Wednesday, a volunteer, using funds donated to People Helping People, the umbrella organization that runs the pantry, drove to Market Basket to get bananas and tomatoes.
As time was approaching noon, some of the volunteers could be heard remarking, “The Lovin’ Spoonfuls” truck is late today,” as they anxiously looked out the windows.
Within a few minutes, the Lovin’ Spoonfuls refrigerated box truck arrived and its driver, Sarah Garrett, introduced herself as a food rescuer. She is a professional driver employed by Lovin’ Spoonfuls who is insured and ServSafe certified. She announced she had a good selection of produce, fish sticks, cream cheese and prepared sandwiches.
“I’ll take it all,” said pantry co-director Jane McIninch.
Volunteers took boxes from Garrett into the pantry after McIninch logged the type of food in each box, its weight and its origin. The day’s delivery included 243 pounds of food from Whole Foods, Stop & Shop and Wegmans.
Lovin’ Spoonfuls in a Brookline-based nonprofit established in 2010 with a mission of “distributing wholesome, fresh food that would otherwise be thrown away from grocery stores, produce wholesalers, farms and farmers’ markets, and distribute it to community nonprofits that feed Greater Boston’s hungry.”
McIninch said, “During the first few years of operation, Lovin’ Spoonfuls only redistributed fresh food within the Route 128 corridor. We contacted them. With Wegmans coming to town (in October 2014), it not only became way too much for us to go to all the grocery stores every day, it was more perishable food that we could give out in a week. They (Lovin’ Spoonfuls) were willing to do it because of the extra food.”
As of June 2015, Lovin’ Spoonfuls delivers fresh food from Wegmans to the Burlington pantry on weekdays (McIninch or volunteers go on weekends), the pantry takes what it needs and the rest of the food is taken by Lovin’ Spoonfuls to other local pantries and food banks that need it.
In her “Team Lovin’” bio, Garrett said she “believes the work that the Lovin’ Spoonfuls team does poses a challenge to the myth of scarcity — we produce plenty of food to feed the needy. She is honored to be doing work that helps people survive the struggle with dignity and fresh vegetables.”
Up to 40 percent of food in America goes to waste, according to a 2012 report from the Natural Resources Defense Council. Lovin’ Spoonfuls is one of two nonprofits in Massachusetts dedicated to feeding more people by reducing food waste. The other nonprofit is Cambridge-based Food For Free.
A state law adopted less than two years ago also contributes to the reduction of food waste. The Commercial Food Waste Disposal Ban, which went into effect Oct. 1, 2014, prohibits the disposal of commercial organic waste by businesses and institutions that dispose of one ton or more per week.
Since the passage of that ban, donations of fresh organic produce, dairy and bread have increased, which in turn has resulted in the Burlington food pantry expanding its services. Organic food is nutrient-rich but also has a limited shelf life. The Burlington food pantry now distributes produce and other fresh food to clients on a weekly basis.
Burlington Community Food Pantry is open every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday from noon to 1:30 p.m. and every second Wednesday and every fourth Thursday of the month from 6 to 7:30 p.m. To receive access to the pantry’s services, a resident must first be certified through the Burlington Youth and Family Services Department.
The pantry depends on Burlington residents and employees of Burlington businesses to share volunteering duties that include sorting and shelving canned goods, being personal shoppers for clients as they choose their groceries for the week and collecting food donations from bins located at grocery stores. Also important are monetary donations, which are used to pay utilities for the pantry building — which is rent-free, courtesy of St. Mark’s — and to purchase food as supply gaps arise.
For many of the volunteers, what they do is much more than helping “people in need” — they are helping and meeting friends, neighbors and residents in the community. Due to the social interaction and cozy environment, everyone seems to blend together, making it difficult to distinguish who are the volunteers and who are the clients.
Burlington resident Rick Brown has been volunteering every Wednesday and every fourth Thursday for five months.
“It’s fun. I enjoy helping people,” said Brown, who said he often helps by bringing groceries to clients’ cars.
Another volunteer helping out Feb. 10 was a young man named Nick Ciardi, who heard about the need for volunteers at his church, the United Church of Christ, Congregational. He mentioned the pantry’s need for volunteers to his friend Andrew Bradley, who decided to volunteer, too. Bradley described the atmosphere as “nice and friendly,” and Ciardi said he thought the “pantry process (of gathering and distributing food) was amazing.”
Kathy Krieg, who has been volunteering at the pantry for a few years, and previously volunteered for Meals on Wheels for 20 years, said, “I’ve been a Burlington resident for 43 years. I can’t believe I waited this long to become a volunteer. I honestly think that I get more out of it than they do.”