Recently, a man arrived at the Caruso Cafe after lunch had been served. He had just interviewed for a dishwasher job that he was really excited about, but was hungry because he missed both breakfast and lunch to go to the interview. He didn’t have a car and he was couch surfing, but his excitement about this job was palpable. Getting this position would be a big step forward. Unfortunately, all that Lori Wick, Food Programs Manager at the Haven, could find to give him was a frozen four-ounce meal. Lori was struck by his drive and enthusiasm and wished she had more to offer him. He gratefully took the frozen meal, but this interaction inspired Lori to see if she could make sure the next person had a healthier and more nourishing meal.
Lori has seen and heard all kinds of stories from Food Shelf shoppers–some pull at the heartstrings and others are downright inspiring. The Haven’s food programs are often the first way that many people in poverty become connected with the Haven; some people have experienced unexpected hardships that require a few monthly shopping trips until they’re back on their feet, others utilize the Food Shelf while they’re trying to get a new job, some are in danger of losing their home and this resource tips the scales to prevent that from happening, and still others rely on our food services for an extended period of time, as it is the nourishment that allows them to survive.
The Haven is lucky to have a number of food partners who all pitch in to minimize the needs of our food insecure community members. In 2014, Adam Charnin-Aker, a Dartmouth College student, started Dartmouth Feeding Neighbors, a small organization that procured and transported leftover food from the Dartmouth dining hall and local restaurants to the Upper Valley Haven. During that year, they brought over 11,000 pounds of food to the Haven, where it was quickly consumed by guests of the shelters, patrons of the Food Shelf, and visitors to the Caruso Cafe.
Over the following years, the relationship continued, but the need has increased. The Haven welcomes over 4,200 households to the Food Shelf annually, both the family and adult shelters always have a waiting list, and community members can count on breakfast and lunch daily in the Caruso Cafe–on average, 25-30 visit the cafe for breakfast and 50+ individuals stop by for lunch. The Dartmouth community has been consistently generous in supporting the Haven’s many programs and services, so Lori decided to revisit the relationship with Dartmouth Feeding Neighbors. She connected with Don Reed in Dining Services and went to share with his team the story of the man she met and the impact that excess food at Dartmouth could have on individuals who utilize the Hixon House Adult Shelter, the Caruso Cafe, and the Food Shelf.
Lori was well-received by the managers and staff at the meeting. They were touched by the story, but a logistical issue was making the process more difficult to execute: the food and storage container areas were on different floors so transferring prepared foods to containers was not easy or efficient. The Dartmouth team came up with a plan to store reusable containers in the kitchen and those containers would be cleaned and recycled. On July 31, 2019, the Haven received 332 pounds of prepared food from Dartmouth Feeding Neighbors, delivered by students. From that week forward, the Haven has received approximately 1,000 pounds a week, with deliveries on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, largely organized by Douglas Vetter ’21. The food impacts many areas of the Haven and a wide variety of guests and visitors. Lori, Haven staff, and Food Shelf volunteers don’t have to worry about whether there will be nutritional home-cooked food to feed those who need a meal.
When Lori left the initial meeting at Dartmouth, one of the staff members approached her. He ensured that he would do all that he could to make the program work, as his family had been helped by the Haven when he was a child and he never forgot it.
And the man who applied for the dishwasher position? He got the job.
It’s a small world. And it’s a good one when we work together.