The Food Shelf is open—52 weeks a year—to everyone
If Lori Wick has learned one thing in her years at the Upper Valley Haven, it’s this: You can’t tell by looking at someone why they’ve come to the Food Shelf. “We welcome people from all walks of life—all backgrounds and educational levels,” says Lori, who manages the Food Shelf. “It could be parents going through divorce, people who used to donate to the Haven who have just lost their jobs, anyone who needs to balance a budget, and, sadly, people who are truly hungry.”
Whoever they are, Lori and a devoted cadre of 160 volunteers and several key staff assure Food Shelf visitors are greeted warmly and that their needs are met. The Food Shelf in fact has operated continuously since 1983, 52 weeks a year. “We serve up to 70, 80, even 90 households per day. Families come from about a 50-mile radius,” she explains. Each year, over 4,000 households make more than 15 thousand visits to the Haven Food Shelf.
The Food Shelf is committed to providing on-going, reliable access to healthy groceries once a month—what’s known as a “Monthly Food Shelf.” “It’s a full cart of groceries, including meat, dairy, and staples,” says Lori. A “Daily Food Shelf,” available any day they come to the Haven, provides bread, pounds of fresh produce, prepared foods, and specialty items. Keeping the Food Shelf well-stocked and providing customers with the opportunity to make their own selections of food is part of the Haven’s philosophy of “abundance.” Jennifer Fontaine, Director of Operations comments, “If people know they can come back to the Haven and believe there will be plenty of food available, they will only take what they need now. If they think food could be scarce, they could behave differently.”
A large portion of the items in the Haven’s Food Shelf are the result of generous donations of food from individuals, businesses, churches, and civic groups throughout the year. This is in addition to regular weekly donations from Hannaford, Subway, and Cumberland Farms, and many other Upper Valley food sources. Another important partner is the non-profit, Willing Hands. Through its gleaning operations from groceries, restaurants, food purveyors and area farms provide the Haven with over tons of food annually.
The COVID-19 pandemic has also resulted in many new programs for food distribution from the federal and state governments and generous donors to support the community. Jennifer adds, “In a typical year, the Haven will also spend over three hundred thousand dollars to purchase food from wholesalers, grocery stores, the Vermont Foodbank, and other specialty local food purveyors.
Laura Gillespie, Director of Development & Communications, notes, “The generosity of our donors and special fundraising drives like 19 Days of the Valley and Hunger Action Month result in thousands of donations and allow us to create this level of abundance.” Combined, these efforts ensure that people coming to the Food Shelf have access to generous amounts of high-quality, nutritious food.
According to Lori, the job is simultaneously humbling and uplifting. “There was a mom who came in with her young daughter, who whispered to me that she could use a birthday cake,” she recounts. “When we get cakes from Hannaford, I keep them on a shelf in the walk-in fridge for occasions just like this. When I brought it out to her, she stood there in the parking lot and cried.”
“When you donate to the Food Shelf, you touch all kinds of lives,” Lori concludes. “I want people to know how much visitors appreciate the donations. Every single can and dollar matters.”