Rindge School of Technical Arts Students Dig into Questions of Food Justice

“If you spend a dollar on food, how much of that dollar goes to each level of the food system?” This is the question that culinary students puzzled through during their first class back from summer vacation. Working together around a seminar table, they made a list of different actors in the food system—farmers, processing plants, retailers, food service employees—and spent the rest of class in discussion with each other about the actual and the ideal roles of each of these actors. These students at the Rindge School of Technical Arts have spent the last three years learning about the food service industry and gaining practical skills in an instructional kitchen. Since this school year began, they’ve been animated over a new assignment: improving the food system.

The Rindge School of Technical Arts (RSTA), in collaboration with Food For Free, is incorporating food justice education into its culinary arts curriculum. In addition to packing food for the Cambridge Weekend Backpack Program, seniors in the Culinary Arts and Hospitality program are learning about the food system, and through student-led discussions and self-driven projects, are working to make it better.

Cambridge Rindge and Latin School has already been a close community partner with Food For Free by supporting the CWBP. Each week, students from the culinary program sort and pack food in the RSTA instructional kitchen, so that the food is ready to be received by Cambridge’s elementary schools. Without the volunteer help, workspace, and storage capacity that RSTA provides, the Backpack Program would not be able to serve its current 16 participating schools.

Chef Catherine Thomas saw the potential for her students to gain a deeper understanding of the problems that the CWBP seeks to address. Working together, Chef Thomas and Food For Free’s Lauren O’Brien developed a curriculum for the 2017-2018 school year that will cover several issues of food justice, including food waste, food insecurity, and food recovery. The course also has built-in opportunities for developing professional skills, such as interviewing, public speaking, and financial literacy. The capstone of RSTA’s food justice class is a project in which students will research and present on one area of the food system. Part of the students’ research will be to interview someone involved in food justice work in the community, such as a nonprofit coordinator or a local restaurant owner. Students will consider challenges the community faces regarding the food system, and propose a possible improvement or solution.

The syllabus’ project description speaks to the class’ interactive design: “Rather than simply read about what is being done to tackle food injustice, we will be attempting to learn from those who are on the ground each and every day working towards improvement of the food system.”

One goal of the class is for students to learn through assignments such as interviewing each other, working on a budget for a hypothetical nonprofit organization, and taking field trips to several sites in Cambridge where food justice is happening.

Lauren O’Brien, who will be co-teaching alongside Chef Thomas, hopes to “get the ball rolling in the students’ minds if they want to work in food…to consider the injustice throughout the food system at every level.” We’re excited to see how the students’ research will add a deeper level of meaning to the CWBP and our partnership with CRLS.

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Backpack Update

The Cambridge Weekend Backpack Program continues to grow and thrive. We currently serve nearly 500 students in 16 Cambridge elementary and middle schools.

After a successful pilot last spring, we are now serving the Benjamin Banneker Charter School in North Cambridge.

This expansion was instigated when school administrator reached out to Food For Free Program Director Alanna Mallon last spring, asking if we could bring the program to the school. We started with a pilot, serving just six students. This allowed us to help the students most in-need at the school and to put procedures in place for bringing the Backpack Program to the school more broadly this fall. We now serve 30 students and have the capacity to add additional students as word of the program spreads within the school.

The program at the Banneker Charter School is supported by the school’s family liaison, who packs the bags, and two teachers who pick up the food from Cambridge Rindge and Latin Highschool, which is where we stage the program and divide up the food for all of the participating schools.

Life Science Cares Milk Drive
Our friends at Life Science Cares wanted to support the Backpack Program with a food drive this fall. Alanna suggested a milk drive, and a plan was hatched.

Life Science Cares organized their member companies in a month-long drive, which gathered enough milk to support the Backpack Program’s needs for a full month.

We are all hugely grateful to Blue Cross Blue Shield Massachusetts for their support of the Backpack Program through a Healthy Living Community Grant.

While the Backpack Program is expected to receive partial funding from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts this year, the program is not yet fully funded. Also, we are mindful of the loss of funding that occurred last year due to Governor Baker’s “9C” cuts.

We welcome your support. You can give directly to the Backpack Program here through the end of the year.

If you prefer to give in kind, the Backpack Program is also seeking grocery store gift cards to assist families over the holidays. Donations of cards in $15, $25 and $40 denominations are welcome, preferably from Market Basket or Star/Shaws. These can be mailed Attn: Michelle, to Food For Free, at 11 Inman Street, Cambridge, 02139.
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What’s We’re Up To: Autumn 2017 Edition

  • We’ve shuffled our Home Delivery schedule a bit to make room for more clients. We expect to reach 150 clients over the next six months, but we need your help to do it.
  • Food Rescue continues to grow. New donors include the Trader Joes in Allston, Bentley University, Wellesley Public Schools, and Olin College.
  • Family Meals is piloting a new approach at Harvard in collaboration with Harvard University Dining Services. Student volunteers are packaging meals this fall under the guidance of a work-study student supervisor. Harvard is picking up the tab for the student supervisor, and we are grateful!
  • Updates on the Cambridge Weekend Backpack Program needed their own post.

  • Bailey Werner has joined our staff as Family Meals Program Coordinator, replacing Amy Starzec in the kitchen. Bailey's past experience, super positive attitude, and ability to manage many things at once make her the perfect person to help the Family Meals program as it continues to grow.
  • Sarah Adler, Ryan’s right-hand woman in her position as Operations Coordinator, has also joined the program team, as Home Delivery Program Coordinator. We are all excited about not only getting more of Sarah’s time but also taking advantage of her smarts, compassion, and commitment to service in this client-facing position.
  • Stuart Mapes is interning with us for the year as part of the Presbyterian Church’s Young Adult Volunteers program. The Presbyteriam Church describes the program as “a faith-based year of service for young people, ages 19-30, in 22 sites around the world and in the United States. YAVs accompany local agencies working to address root causes of poverty and reconciliation while exploring the meaning and motivation of their faith in intentional community with peers and mentors.”

Lots of exciting grants in the last few months! The Party Under the Harvest Moon
  • Raised over $85,000 for Food For Free’s work
  • Was a lot of fun! You can check out some photos here.
  • Was made possible by support from MIT, Cambridge Savings Bank, and many other generous sponsors.
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Current Volunteer Opportunities

Family Meals turns donated, frozen prepared foods into individual heat-and-eat meals for people with limited access to cooking facilities. We supply meals to local K-12 schools, communities colleges, and various other programs that work with homeless people and those facing food insecurity.

What: Tasks include breaking down frozen bulk prepared food, filling meal trays, and sealing and labeling the meals. Volunteers must be comfortable standing for several hours at a time, interested in working with their hands, comfortable handling prepared foods, and attentive and tidy in their work.

When: Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday mornings, 8:45 a.m.-12:30 p.m.

Where: Harvard Square, Cambridge

Questions? Contact Program Manager Fiona Crimmins at fiona@foodforfree.org.

Home Delivery brings twice-monthly boxes of food to homebound seniors and people with disabilities who are unable to access food pantries.

What: Volunteers pack food for delivery and/or accompany the driver on the delivery route. Volunteers must be able to lift 40 pounds and must be comfortable standing for several hours at a time. Volunteers interested in riding on the truck must also able to get into and out of the truck with ease.

7:15-9am Truck assistant shift
9-11am Box packing
11-3pm Truck assistant shift

7:30-10am Box Packing
10-1pm Truck assistant shift
1-4pm Truck assistant shift

7:30-9:30am Box Packing
9:30-2pm Truck assistant shift

Where: 11 Inman St., Cambridge

Questions? Contact Program Director Alanna Mallon at alanna@foodforfree.org

Sign up to receive weekly volunteer invitations here.
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Sneak Peak: Party Under the Harvest Moon “Grab” Packages

The Party Under the Harvest Moon is just a few weeks away. Do you have your tickets?

Year after year, our Farm Stand "grab" packages are a favorite, usually selling out well before the event is over. We have a LOT of really cool items this year. Some will sell for $20; others for $40. You won't know what you're getting, but we promise that each bag is worth more than the price. A tiny sample:

Real Pickles goodie bag: 4 jars + T-shirt
Value: $65
These pickles ain't fickle! Real Pickles is a small, worker-owned cooperative producing pickled products that are raw, vinegar-free, 100% organic, and rich in probiotics. In support of a regional food system, ingredients are sourced only from family farms in the Northeast. Dig into 4 jars of fermented goodness (maybe even while wearing your new Real Pickles T-shirt?) with this gift certificate.
Delivery within the Northeast only, including MA, NH, RI, ME, CT, VT, NY, NJ, PA

Donated By: Real Pickles

$50 to Spend at Iggy's

Iggy's Philosophy: At Iggy's we choose to buy only the highest-quality ingredients, because we want to feel proud of our products and make the best breads that we possibly can. The ingredients that we purchase are all-natural always and organic whenever possible. Our choices are made with the planet and the people in mind, as we work to nurture health for both.

Donated By: Iggy's Bakery

JP Licks Sundae Party For 10
Value: $50
Includes: 2 Quarts of ice cream (pick 2 flavors) , 1 pt of your favorite topping (choose from sprinkles, caramel, mini M&M's, walnuts and more), 1 pt of hot fudge, plus whipped cream, cups and spoons

Donation is for in-store picked up only. Please call the store you wish to pick up from ahead of time. Store will not be able to fill donations after 7pm.

Donated by: JP Licks

Boston Public Market Goodie Bag
Value: $75
A large and sturdy canvas tote bag filled with a $20 gift card for use anywhere at Boston Public Market, plastic ware and a copy of Boston Public Market Seasonal Cookbook. This informative, user-friendly cookbook is filled with beautiful photographs of seasonal food.
Donated by: Boston Public Market
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We’re Hiring a Family Meals Program Coordinator!

Food For Free is hiring a part-time Program Coordinator for our Family Meals program. Family Meals re-purposes surplus prepared foods into single-serving meals for people with limited access to kitchens. The Program Coordinator will 1) serve as a kitchen manager; 2) provide general support to the Program Manager. This position is 20 hours/week initially, with the potential to increase in the future.  The Program Coordinator will report to the Family Meals Program Manager.

We envision a future where everyone in our community—regardless of age, income, or ability—has consistent access to fresh, healthy, delicious food.

Areas of Responsibility

  • Meal Production: Assist in producing approximately 600 meals per week.

  • Food Safety: Ensure food safety practices in all aspects of food handling throughout meal production.

  • Volunteer Management: Work with the Program Manager to recruit, schedule, and manage volunteers in the production of meals each week.

  • Manage Prepared Food Donations: Identify and sort rescued food suitable for the Family Meals program.

  • Record Keeping: Maintain accurate program records.

  • Other duties as assigned


  • Commitment to social justice, and food justice in particular

  • Interest in feeding families in need

  • Experience in the foodservice industry

  • ServSafe Manager certification (can be acquired shortly after hire)

  • Ability to work on your feet for several hours at a time

  • Ability to lift 40 pounds repeatedly during a shift

  • Ability to manage a kitchen production process with a smile

  • Comfortability managing and working with volunteers doing meal preparation

  • Ability and willingness to identify and implement improvements to the kitchen production process

  • Exceptional leadership, interpersonal, and communication skills

  • Ability to think on your feet and problem-solve in the moment

  • A high level of organization and time-management skills

  • Maturity and sound judgment

  • A warm and professional demeanor

How to Apply

Send a resume and cover letter to Program Manager Fiona Crimmins via email at fiona@foodforfree.org.

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Survey Results are In!

Unlike the Cambridge Weekend Backpack Program or Home Delivery, Food For Free’s Food Rescue program reaches people indirectly, through our partnerships with more than 100 food programs.

Every year (or so), we ask these programs to complete a survey. These surveys help us to:
  • Assess how well we are doing our jobs
  • Identify places where we can improve
  • Capture demographic characteristics of the people we are serving, like age, race, and languages spoken
  • Understand how receiving food from our Food Rescue program affects these programs and the people they help
Ryan and Sarah just wrapped up our latest survey and we’d love to share a few of the things we learned.

1. Our partners are—by and large—really happy with Food Rescue
  • 99% of the people who responded are highly satisfied with the Food Rescue program and the service they receive.
  • 99% also say that Food For Free delivers good quality food.
  • 96% agree that we deliver food that they want.
  • 93% agree that our drivers arrive on time.
  • 80% of respondents said that our drivers call when they are late. (That’s a place where we can do better.)
2. The demographics of those we serve have stayed about the same.
  • 30% are kids younger than 18
  • 49% are adults between 18
  • 21% are seniors, aged 65 or older
  • 37% of those we serve are white and not Latino/Latina
  • 33% are African-American
  • 24% are Latino/Latina
Among clients of agencies that collect data about language, we know that about 24% speak Spanish as their first language and 18% speak Haitian Kreyol.

3. Our partners have really good things to say about Food Rescue and the effect it has on their programs and clients.
A few quotes:
Food For Free has been a huge support in ensuring the smooth running of the Harvard Square Homeless Shelter. They help make sure we always have fresh and nutritious food to serve our guests each night, even during the coldest of winter months. They've gone above and beyond in assisting our mission to help people experiencing homelessness. Thank you Food For Free!
We depend on Food for Free to help us provide healthy, nutritious food each week. Our guests, in turn, are all either homeless or food-insecure, and depend on the Friday Café to get by. Food for Free is helping us help neighbors who struggle to make ends meet, and we are really grateful.
Food for Free helps people on low-income/disability to receive fresh food, fruits, and vegetables that they might not otherwise be able to afford. Food for Free helps our CSRLC members to have easy access to healthy food options, which contributes to improving and sustaining their overall physical and mental health. Food For Free also makes our program a very welcoming, warm, and inviting place for new members!
And, just for fun, here’s a wordcloud we made that shows the most common words respondents used when they answered the question “How does receiving food from Food For Free impact your program?” A wordcloud in which the words free, meal, help, program, fresh, and fruit are prominent
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What We’re Up To: Spring 2017 Edition

People Programs Parties Planning
  • We’ve begun a strategic planning process, with the help of the firm Impact Catalysts
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A New Mission at Field of Greens

In 1991, when our food rescue program was a lot smaller, we’d often run out of fresh vegetables to deliver, even in the summertime. Ari Kurtz, of Lindentree Farm, offered Food For Free a plot of land on his farm, where we could grow vegetables to supplement what we were able to rescue. Field of Greens was born.

For the last 26 years, Lindentree Farm has loaned Food For Free land every year but one—when we were flooded out by a beaver dam. Ari also donates seeds, gives us space in his greenhouse, and lets us use his tools and irrigation equipment. Field of Greens wouldn’t exist without Lindentree’s extraordinary support.

Over the years, Field of Greens’ role has changed. As Food For Free has grown and our supply of rescued vegetables has become bigger and more stable, the need for extra produce in the summer has lessened. A couple of years ago, we began asking ourselves “How can Field of Greens be more meaningful?”

Last year, Alanna Mallon found the answer.

Since 1990, Pine Street Inn—New England’s largest homeless shelter and one of Food For Free’s Food Rescue recipients—has offered job training in food services, as well as other fields. This program trains about 100 participants each year in skills such as menu preparation, kitchen safety, food sanitation, and hands-on cooking skills. Trainees work with Pine Street’s culinary staff to prepare 2,000 meals a day for Pine Street’s guests, and also have the opportunity to work with Pine Street’s social enterprise catering company

One of the challenges for Pine Street’s culinary program is the budget constraints that limit their ability to purchase fresh vegetables. It’s hard to learn knife skills if all you get to work with is frozen vegetables.

For the second year in a row Field of Greens is set to help. Working with Pine Street’s chef Frank Overbeeke, Farm Managers Theresa and Seth are planning our crops to meet Pine Street’s needs. This year’s harvest will include beets, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, chard, collards, kale, lettuce, and scallions.

We sent our crop plan to Pine Street a few weeks ago, so that Chef Overbeeke can know what vegetables he’ll be getting when, and can plan his menu accordingly.

Field of Greens will also be growing herbs for our Home Delivery clients this year, including basil, parsley, oregano, rosemary, and thyme.

Chef Overbeeke's Broccoli Salad

5 Cups fresh broccoli
6 to 8 slices cooked bacon, crumbled (optional)
¼ cup chopped red onion
½ cup raisins or dried cranberries
1 cup sunflowers
1 cup mayonnaise
3 tablespoons white vinegar
3 tablespoons sugar

Mix the broccoli, onion and raisins in a large bowl. In another smaller bowl mix the mayo, sugar and vinegar. Add this dressing to the broccoli mixture and toss well. Just before serving add the sunflower seeds and bacon, (if using) and re-toss.
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Photos from Empty Bowls 2017

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