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Market in the Park: on happiness and vegetables

Veronica from Food For Free here—I recently visited our summer pilot of a new program: Market in the Park, a free farmers’ market offered in Danehy Park on Thursdays from 11:30-12:30. Here’s what I found:


What’s most striking to me about the whole experience is the sound of happiness: I hear splashing in the splash park. I hear laughing on the playground. And then there are vegetables:

“Hey Annabelle, guess what I got? Purple kale!

“Can she eat anything yet?” Food For Free intern Ashia Aubourg is chatting with a woman carrying her baby. The woman replies, “Zucchini, blended. She loves it!”

“Tomato!” says a toddler in a bucket hat, holding up toddler-sized tomatoes, one in each hand. “Oh, you got the tomatoes!” replies his mom. “Okay, put them in the bag!”

“So nice and fresh! Thank you, see you next week!”

The sound of happiness is coming from adults and children as diverse as Cambridge itself. In fact, I can’t understand all of the words that are spoken—even though I’m well aware of the diversity of Our Fair City, I’m surprised by how many languages I hear at the Market in the Park.

Market in the Park: an opportunity to share the bounty


We have a lot of produce to go around during the summer—after all, for the many local farms who donate to Food For Free, it’s the height of the growing season. But food insecure kids are not in school, making it harder to reach them and their families. Market in the Park is, as Alanna says, “an opportunity to share the bounty.”

Just like our school “markets,” Market in the Park is available to anyone who wishes to use it—which means no forms to fill out, and most importantly, no stigma. Some people take a little, some people take a lot. Some say things like, “I don’t need anything, but I’m glad this is here.” Others fill up a whole bag and come back each week.

We chose our pilot location at Danehy Park knowing that many low-income families will already be there: “Each summer, Cambridge participates in a summer food safety net which distribute summer lunches for children who would normally access the school cafeteria,” Alanna explains. “Those lunches address the children’s needs, but not the family’s needs.”

Teamwork makes the dream work

Jen Costa with kids blurred and croppedThe beauty of Thursdays at Danehy Park is that there’s a lot going on, and Market in the Park is just one part of it. The free meals for kids are a big draw for low-income families, but the array of activities has made this The Place To Be for families of all income levels and demographics:

There’s a kids’ craft project facilitated by young employees from the Mayor’s Summer Youth Employment Program.

There’s a story hour, during which CPL Youth Services Librarian Jennifer Costa had the kids rapt with excitement and attention.

And then there’s the biggest draw of all: the Book Bike, which caused such a cheer that you’d think that everyone’s favorite pop star had just rolled into the park. Kids get to pick out a book to keep—no wonder they cheered so loudly!

Book Bike with kids

Access to food, books, and outdoor play

As I biked back to the office, I realized how happy I felt that our new pilot program isn’t a standalone—instead, it’s part of a collaboration, addressing the needs of kids and families on multiple levels.

I’m well aware that kids are healthier, happier, and do better in school when they can rely on having enough to eat, without question, every day of the year. But research also shows that kids do better when they have plenty of books at home and opportunities to play outside. As Book Bike founder Liz Phipps Soeiro said to me, “When you look at children’s health holistically, you have to feed the mind and feed the body to have a healthy child.”

When people are getting their needs met—nourishment for both body and mind—you hear what I heard as I wheeled out of the park:  the sound of happiness, loud and clear.


Here we are, making the faces of happiness! I’m the one in the blue shirt. Everyone else, from L to R: Cambridge Book Bike founder Liz Phipps Soeiro, CPL Youth Services Librarian Jennifer Costa, Food For Free Program Director Alanna Mallon, and Food For Free intern Ashia Aubourg

Check out the rest of our Summer Newsletter!

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What we’re up to: Summer 2016 edition

  • New truck on its way!
    • Starting in August, we’ll be able to move more food in fewer trips—we’ll be replacing our current Little Truck with a new refrigerated truck that boasts a higher cargo capacity. Good news for our food rescue partners, and for the environment, too!
  • New grants: Speaking of generous granters, we are honored to have been selected for grants from two more amazing foundations!
  • New food donors:
    • amazonfresh and harvard business school logosAmazonFresh recently launched in Boston, and has been donating surplus food to Food For Free since Day One. Welcome, AmazonFresh!AmazonFresh recently launched in Boston, and Food For Free has been partnering with the Greater Boston Food Bank to rescue their surplus food since Day One. Welcome, AmazonFresh!
    • Harvard Business School is now donating sandwiches, sushi, and baked goods every week. Glad to have you on board, HBS!
  • New food programs & partnerships:
    • Ashia with pantry shelvesWe’ve been supporting the Falcons’ Food Project’s summer food pantry, available to support any CRLS students who need it!
    • We’ve launched a new pilot program: Market in the Park, a free farmers’ “market” much like our in-school markets, only outdoors.
    • This summer, we delivered food to Sisters Unchained, a summer learning experience for young women with formerly or currently incarcerated parents.
    • We’ve also added Vinfen’s Magazine Street location, where we’re providing fresh produce.
  • Staff update: greetings and goodbyes!
    • Ross Fiona and KrissyWe’re sad to bid goodbye to Ross Richmond, who’s done so much great work to get our Family Meals Program up and running. Please join us in wishing Ross a bon voyage as he begins a new chapter of life on the West Coast, where we know he’ll continue to do great work!
    • Fiona Crimmins, longtime Food For Free volunteer, started on Monday as our Program Manager for Family Meals. She’s picking up where Ross left off, working to get rescued Prepared Foods out into the community!
    • Krissy Scommegna, our Kitchen Manager for Family Meals, is going back to school in the fall, but we’re fortunate to be keeping her on as our Home Delivery Coordinator!

Check out the rest of our Summer Newsletter!

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Seeking supervolunteers: Beverage Captain, Food Wrangler, and Volunteer Coordinator!

Help us raise $70,000 for our Food Rescue and Distribution programs! We’re seeking helpers for 3 2 “supervolunteer” roles for our signature annual fundraiser, the Party Under the Harvest Moon.

These roles are great for folks who want to learn about nonprofit fundraising and events. They may also be a fit for folks with industry connections, but that’s not at all essential. What is essential is that potential volunteers are organized, dedicated, and can devote 1-3 hours a week to chip away at the tasks between now and October.

Interested? Contact development@foodforfree.org with 1-2 paragraphs summarizing why you’re interested, any relevant past experience, and why you think you’d be a great fit.

Beverage Captain — this role has been filled!

Party Food Wrangler

The Food Wrangler will assist Food For Free’s Development Director in soliciting donations of food for our Party Under the Harvest Moon event, which is in October.

The Food Wrangler will:

  • Work alongside Food For Free’s Development Director to recruit 20-25 food donors for our October fundraising event.
  • Contact restaurants, bakeries, caterers, and other potential donors via phone and email to ask for donations of food
  • Communicate with potential and confirmed donors with professionalism and patience
  • Maintain accurate records (using Excel or Open Office Calc) of all communications and their results
  • Take responsibility for ensuring that all necessary information is collected and transmitted to Food For Free staff and the Party Food Chair
  • Be available to communicate with donors and with Food For Free staff *most* weeks from July 1 through October 14
  • Ideally, the Food Wrangler will also volunteer at the Party Under the Harvest Moon itself on the night of October 14, but this is not a requirement.

Volunteer Captain

Before the event:

  • Work alongside the office staff to fill about 80 volunteer
    positions at the event (October 14) by:

    • Using their own personal contacts
    • Managing and cheerleading the networking efforts of the Party Committee
    • Using appropriate email lists, online communities, and other
      recruitment tools, as needed
    • Note that Food For Free does have an active roster of volunteers to pull from.
  • Ensure that each volunteer has the right skills and qualifications for their role
  • Work with the office staff to maintain accurate and complete records of volunteer contact information and commitments
  • Communicate with volunteers, both proactively and responsively, to make sure that they have the information they need (shift details, accessibility info., directions, etc.) to complete their roles

During the event:

  • Serve as the main point of contact for volunteers during the
    Party under the Harvest Moon, including:

    • Being on site from 5 pm until 11 pm on October 14
    • Greeting volunteers as they arrive and direct them to the relevant Team Leader
    • Answering volunteer questions, seeking support and guidance from staff and Team Leaders, as necessary

After the event:

  • Work with the office staff to ensure that all volunteers are
    thanked for their efforts
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Food For Free is expanding our Board of Directors!

Update: Wow! That really worked! We have so many exciting candidates that we must stop accepting new applications at this time.

We’re seeking new applicants for our Board of Directors! Does this sound like you or someone you know?

About Food For Free

Food For Free improves access to healthy food within our community by rescuing food that would otherwise go to waste, strengthening the community food system, and creating new distribution channels to reach underserved populations.

We have grown significantly over the past four years:

  • in 2014, we launched our Prepared Food Rescue program, with Whole Foods Market and Harvard University as our inaugural Prepared Food donors
  • in January 2016, we adopted the Cambridge Weekend Backpack Program, which sends nearly 400 kids home with kid-friendly meals each weekend
  • in Spring of 2016, we launched Family Meals, an innovative new way to distribute surplus prepared foods

This organization is deeply rooted in its community. New regulations like the Massachusetts organics waste ban and the EPA’s food waste reduction goals bring great challenge and great opportunity to grow our mission. As we respond to these opportunities for growth, we remain committed to building on financially solid footing.

About potential board candidates

We are seeking board applicants who are passionate about environmental wellbeing and alleviating food insecurity.

We look for members who have access to resources—financial, personal and professional networks, and/or relationships with organizations with surplus food—that want to support the ongoing growth of Food For Free.

We seek folks who have entrepreneurial chops—who can help us envision opportunity, articulate next steps, adjust as necessary, and work with just-in-time resources.

We seek folks who are filled with compassion for those who face food insecurity, who are thrilled that nutritious food that would otherwise be composted is instead bounty for those who need it—and are jazzed about fundraising for this worthy cause.

We seek folks who are willing to bring their own particular skills and connections to the table. A few examples:

  • Are you a connector?
  • Can you make the case for big gifts confidently?
  • Do you have fast-track access to the right set of ears in government?
  • Are you connected to universities or corporations who will recognize goodwill opportunities to donate their surplus prepared food?
  • Do you have a platform to speak to the issues of food waste and food insecurity and health?
  • Do you have access to large donors or grant funding organizations that will support our mission?

Get in touch!

For more information email Sasha Purpura: director@foodforfree.org

To apply for the position, please send a letter of interest discussing your qualifications to Sasha Purpura: director@foodforfree.org

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Lunch and learn: watch this video & learn all about Food Rescue!

Have you ever wanted to learn more about how our organization was founded, and how we do what we do? Well, you’re in luck: our own Executive Director, Sasha Purpura, recently gave this “lunch and learn” presentation at Tufts University.

Go ahead, get your lunch out and hit play. In just one hour, you can learn all about food rescue (and how you can help!):

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Meet our new program: Family Meals!

Antoine Boucicaut at our Allston motel Family Meals distribution site

“What do you like? Hamburger? Chicken and potato? It [will] make you smart and strong.”

In the hallway of an Allston hotel where homeless families are being sheltered, Antoine Boucicaut opens a Food For Free cooler and jovially offers several meal options to a young boy who has come to collect meals for his family.

It’s not a long walk home—this boy’s family lives together just down the hall in a motel room equipped only with a microwave and a mini-fridge for food preparation.

“There are kids in every motel room,” explains Ross Richmond, Food For Free’s Community Partnership Manager, who worked on the creation of Family Meals.

Children like these and their families are the reason behind our newly launched Family Meals program, which repurposes rescued Prepared Foods into single-serving meals for people in need.

A closeup image of individual meals from Food For Free's Family Meals program

Family Meals: pioneering a new kind of food rescue

Family Meals currently distributes via Feastworthy, our Allston motel partnership, and via Take Home Tuesdays at the K-Lo Market, which serves low-income families with students at the Kennedy-Longfellow School. Our Allston distribution site, now in its pilot phase, is currently serving about 400 meals each week to 75 individuals.

We expect that Family Meals will grow from here. As Sasha Purpura explains, “In 1981, we became the nation’s first food rescue organization. Today hundreds, if not thousands of organizations are doing the same thing throughout the U.S. and the world.”

“Now we are pioneering the next wave in food rescue—prepared food. Millions of pounds of this food are thrown out daily at universities, hotels, corporations, and more. But this food is exactly what’s needed for homeless families in motels with no kitchens, for those working two or three jobs with no time to cook.”

Family Meals - before and afterFamily Meals transforms surplus prepared foods into user-friendly individual meals for people in need

The power of partnerships

The Feastworthy partnership is coordinated and funded by the Allston Brighton Health Collaborative. Action for Boston Community Development’s Neighborhood Opportunity Center provides logistical and distribution support while their Motel Support Services provides on-site program support. Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program is overseeing a study to track the health outcomes associated with program participation. Charlesview Inc. is an ABHC Steering Committee member and provides storage space. Food For Free packages the individual meals through the work of both staff and volunteers, and our drivers drop off meals as part of their regular delivery routes. 

Our food donor partners are crucial: Harvard University, Tufts University, Emmanuel College, and MIT donate surplus food weekly from their dining halls, and Google recently joined as our first corporate food donor partner.

Meeting people where they are

It has always been important to Food For Free that our programs meet people where they are, and provide them with food that meets their specific situation.

As Ross explains, “It’s often a challenge to bring the whole family to a different meal program every night of the week in order to get a healthy meal for your kids.

“Food pantries are great, but if you’re living in a motel, you don’t have anywhere to cook…so the most accessible and affordable option becomes processed food and fast food. With Family Meals, we want to provide an alternative.

“It’s not enough for us as a state, or as a society, to say, ‘Here’s a hotel room. You’re not homeless anymore. Good luck.'”

Antoine Boucicaut of ABCD with Ross Richmond of Food For Free

Want to help? Become a donor, or volunteer!

 

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What’s going on around here? (Spring 2016 edition)

  • New food donors:
    • Google has joined us as a Prepared Foods partner, and we’re now picking up surplus meals from their Kendall Square office’s storied dining area.
    • Chipotle in Central Square is now contributing surplus Prepared Foods.
    • Trader Joe’s in Needham has joined us as a Produce Rescue partner.
  • New food programs & partnerships:
  • New volunteer opportunities:
    • Volunteer to ride in our Ride for Food—registration just opened! (Riders fundraise for our Food Rescue programs throughout the summer, then enjoy a gorgeous fall bike ride with the rest of the team on September 25th.)
    • Volunteer at our kitchen to help transform rescued Prepared Foods into individual meals for Family Meals. Since this program is so new, we need lots of helpers—this could be you!
    • Volunteer on-truck to help deliver to our Home Delivery clients—we’ve opened up some new on-truck shifts!
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Spotlight on: Whole Foods

We’ve got 4 fun facts to share about our food donation partner, Whole Foods Market. Ready? Go!

Whole Foods 41%

4. Supporters since Day One: Ever since there has been a Whole Foods at Prospect Street, River Street, Fresh Pond, and Beacon Street, they’ve been donating their excess food to Food For Free.

3. Prepared Foods Rescuers: Whole Foods was one of our first donors for our Prepared Foods Rescue program, which has now become an integral part of our Food Rescue work. In the beginning, it was just Harvard University and Whole Foods Market.

2. Funding as well as food: Whole Foods knows that a robust food rescue program requires not just food, but also funding to pay for things like fuel, trucks, space, and staff time.

They’ve made significant monetary contributions through their Whole Night Madness and 5% Day shopping benefits, and helped us fundraise by sponsoring our recent Empty Bowls benefit.

And, most significantly of all:

1. Our largest food donor: 41% of all the food we rescued last year came from Whole Foods! Can you imagine if all that good food went to compost instead? Instead, our five partner stores—Prospect Street, River Street, Fresh Pond, Somerville, and Medford—work hard to make sure that their surplus food ends up on a Food For Free truck, headed out to people who need it.

As Community Liaison Matthew Keller says, “We take pride knowing that we can help get healthy meals to the community with something that could easily be discarded.”

Thank you to all of the wonderful people who make food rescue happen at Whole Foods Market—we couldn’t do it without you!
DSC_0830 copy sonyahighfield LRMatthew Keller, Community Liaison for Whole Foods Market, with Sasha Purpura, Food For Free’s Executive Director, at our 2016 Empty Bowls benefit

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Photos from Empty Bowls

Empty Bowls was a great success this year, raising over $15,000 for our Food Rescue work. Thanks so much to everyone who bought tickets, played the raffle, and volunteered.

Extra big thanks once again to our wonderful host, Mudflat Pottery School, and our sponsors, Whole Foods Market and Winter Hill Bank.

Please enjoy these lovely pictures from the event, with gratitude to Sonya Highfield Photography:

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Empty Bowls: menu preview + radio spot

Hard to believe that our Empty Bowls benefit is only two days away! Tickets are still available…do you have yours?

What’s on the menu?

We have an amazing array of soups, including options for vegetarians, vegans, and omnivores, as well as dairy-free and gluten-free options.

Here are just a few:

  • WF logoWhole Foods, our fabulous food donation partner, is sponsoring this year’s Empty Bowls and sending us ten tasty gallons of Mother’s Chicken Soup. Mmm.
  • Viale is cooking up some Turkey-Cabbage-White Bean Soup for us.
  • Hong Kong Restaurant is sending a batch of Hot and Sour.
  • Harvard University is sending us a trio: Indian Corn Chowder, Cream of cutty'sMushroom, and Tofu Coconut Soup.
  • We’ll have homemade Tomato Soup from Cutty’s Deli
  • Fire Roasted Red Pepper Soup from Highland Kitchen
  • Curried Lentil with Roasted Root Vegetables from Season to Taste
  • And more—check out all of our amazing soup donors!

iCaterYum!

Fortunately, you don’t have to choose just one—sample as many as you like!

How does this help?

As Sasha explains in this Radio BDC preview,

Poverty is a full-time job.

This benefit event provides relief to individuals and families who could use a hand when it comes to food access.

Bad food is cheap food. And if people are really trying to choose between paying the rent and eating, they’re gonna feed their kids, if they can…So you’re gonna pick the thing you can afford to make their bellies full, but it’s not necessarily nutritious.”

I want to give a shoutout Mudflat…So much heart and soul has gone into this event, so much of people’s time and talent spent on…helping build stronger communities where people are healthy.” —Sasha Purpura

See you there!

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