Without doubt, the number one economic story for 2022 has been the effects of inflation on Americans. While we all feel the effects at the pump or the market, one thing many fail to realize is how challenging the current climate is for nonprofit organizations that serve people in need.
“Right now, it’s tough for a lot of food assistance providers,” said Bernice Behar, JF&CS Family Table Program Director. “Getting delivery drivers and warehouse staff, coping with the rising cost of fuel - it’s all resulting in a lot of food pantries having a hard time sourcing certain items-especially fresh produce.”
Not so at JF&CS. In fact, clients at the Family Table Marketplace are greeted by the sight of heaps of fresh, high-quality produce - black and red radishes, corn,bok choy, Swiss chard, and even oyster mushrooms.
How has JF&CS managed to maintain and even enhance the quality and variety of its fresh offerings? By leaning on deep community partnerships – including with food rescue organization Boston Area Gleaners.
“For a number of years, we’ve been working with Boston Area Gleaners, and they have been able to bring us great produce,” Behar said. “And right as we were getting ready to open our new space, they were changing their own working model.”
A 501(c3) nonprofit, Boston Area Gleaners harvests and packs food “rescued” from local farms for communities across the region, delivering fresh food to a network of local food pantries, food banks, and meal programs. Much of it comes from surplus crops that farmers are not able harvest on their own. Gleaners sends volunteers into the fields to pick and pack these crops. In Fall 2021, the Gleaners also purchased a farm as a base of operations in Acton, allowing them to significantly enhance their approaches to food acquisition and distribution.
Every week, JF&CS Food Coordinator Vincent Vullo drives his truck to Boston Area Gleaners to pick up an assortment of delicious fruits and vegetables - about as short and sweet a supply chain as you could imagine.
“I pick up between 500 and 1200 pounds of amazing produce, and it gets distributed to our clients a few hours later. I like doing it; it’s a positive, friendly crew (at Boston Area Gleaners) and they’re very good at communicating what items are available.”
Having an on-call delivery person for JF&CS also helps Gleaners with their bottom line.
“It’s so helpful to have someone who’s basically a phone call away. Now we can get the food to the people who need it on the same day we bring it in,” said Usha Thakrar, Executive Director of Boston Area Gleaners. “It lets us focus on our primary mission of sourcing high-quality produce from area farms and reducing food waste.”
It is fair to say that most Family Table clients may never know that if it weren’t for the work of Boston Area Gleaners, the fresh fruits and vegetables at Family Table might otherwise have been left to waste in a field. What they see is a bounty of just-picked items ready for them to take home and enjoy.
“Just a few days ago, I surveyed the room and it looked better than a farmer’s market!” Behar said. “We had baskets of fresh-picked strawberries, beautiful bunches of carrots, and so much more. This partnership help us take our care for our clients to a whole other level.”