What does A Place To Turn mean to you? “A place that cares for all people”, “love and respect live here”, “a welcoming and inclusive environment that does amazing work”. These kind words decorate the waiting room of the food pantry and were written by members of the community at the 40th Anniversary Celebration this past September. Similar sentiments are common from clients who come in to shop. Because we provide enough groceries to last two weeks, clients leave with heaping grocery bags. In these grocery bags are items that clients select to make up healthy meals for themselves and their families.
Being a choice food pantry poses many benefits to clients, the food system, and environment. One of the most direct benefits of being a choice pantry is that the people preparing and eating the food can hand select each item and pick items that they will be able to use and enjoy. An additional benefit to clients is that the experience of a grocery shopping trip is still largely maintained. These aspects are a major part of our mission in serving the community with respect. In addition to benefiting clients, being a choice pantry works in the favor of the food system and environment. Because clients can select their food, they don’t receive food that they will not or cannot eat. This means that food items that aren’t eaten are not kept in a circulation of donation to client to donation to client. This is the case if clients do not choose their food and donate back what they cannot use. However, it contributes to a high amount of food waste if it is not donated back. In an environment that seeks to fight food insecurity, food waste is not the answer. Not only is it food that others could benefit from that is being thrown away, food rotting in landfills leads to large amounts of methane being released into the atmosphere. This doesn’t even include the volume of energy and resources that went into producing and transporting the food that are being wasted. As a choice food pantry, A Place To Turn fights food insecurity while limiting the negative effects of food waste.
In addition to my work at A Place To Turn, I also work in the community garden next to the pantry. One of my favorite parts of working at A Place To Turn is shopping with clients and promoting the fresh produce that just came out of the garden. The first thing clients see when beginning to shop is the produce section. It is so rewarding to share in a client’s excitement about super fresh and local produce. This is an even greater joy when I was in the garden picking the produce hours earlier. In trying to provide balanced meals, clients pick from a generally heaping shelf of fresh produce.
In addition to typical produce like lettuce, tomatoes, potatoes, etc., we occasionally get produce that not all of our clients have cooked with before. A part of my year of service is being conscientious about what I personally eat with a goal of eating locally and ethically. Taking part in this food challenge (as a non-New England-native) means learning how to cook various foods that I had not used before but would occasionally come in to A Place To Turn from local farms and gardens. This added a new connection I could make with clients in explaining how I was learning to cook with vegetables to help them decide if they wanted to try them as well.
Another one of my favorite aspects of A Place To Turn is the community of staff and volunteers. Because different sets of volunteers come each day of the week, every day is different. Energy and routine may differ from day to day but there is a constant: the sense of community between the people that make A Place To Turn work. Every person that contributes to the mission of the pantry does so with a similar intention. They have seen a need in the community and want to be a part of addressing that need with respect. This is an important core value of A Place To Turn and is a crucial piece to be maintained, a common desire to respect that everyone needs food and the people in our community are no different. A desire to help provide a basic need and be respectful while doing so.