By Stacey Dresner
WESTERN MASS. – This year the theme of Bountiful Bowls, the premier fundraising event of Rachel’s Table, is inspiring others to “step up” and participate in the fight against hunger.
The May 20 event will honor three anti-hunger activists from the community who have definitely stepped up – Suze Goldman, and Bob and Roberta Bolduc – each of whom have worked tirelessly in the Pioneer Valley community to provide access to healthy food.
This virtual Bountiful Bowls event will feature appearances by Rep. Jim McGovern, State Sen. Eric Lesser, as well as video presentations sharing the stories of the honorees and other volunteers who make Rachel’s Table’s work possible. The event will be hosted by Barry Kriger, anchor emeritus of 22 News WWLP, a longtime supporter of Rachel’s Table.
“Every other year we honor people who have really stepped up with regard to food and hunger, said Jodi Falk, director of Rachel’s Table. “Suze in particular has stepped up in a number of ways. First, in helping us initiate Feeding the Frontlines, and she also started the Lily’s Fruit Fund Initiative. That’s why we are honoring her, not only for her longstanding service to the community, but particularly for those programs that she initiated that helped us during this time.”
Goldman’s initative Feeding the Frontlines provided essential health care workers with meals from local restaurants and grocery gift cards throughout Hampden, Hampshire, and Franklin County during some of the most critical and difficult stages of Covid-19.
Bob Bolduc, owner of Pride Stores, first began working with Rachel’s Table when board member Judy Yaffe walked into one of his stores and the two began talking about food waste. This encounter resulted in Pride becoming one of Rachel’s Table’s many food donors.
Together, Bob and his wife Roberta, make a committed team of philanthropists in the community. Bob has worked to support efforts in education, hunger, homelessness, and community policing. Roberta is a board member of the Ronald McDonald House and Bay Path College. The Bolducs have also supported Christina’s House, one of Rachel’s Table’s recipient agencies.
Over the past year, as Covid-19 has affected so many in the community in terms of job loss and food insecurity, the work of Rachel’s Table has work became even more necessary.
“During Covid the increase in hunger was unspeakable, with the lines at all the shelters and food pantries, said Sarah Maniaci, associate director. “So Rachel’s Table rose to meet the need. We did a lot of food purchasing. We worked very hard with our longstanding partners in order to continue our food rescue and delivery. And we are finding, the need is still out there.”
Rachel’s Table’s main model is food rescue. But during Covid, that model had to be modified a bit.
“We work with 200 volunteers who are also mainly over the age of 60, so when Covid hit, we wanted to make sure everybody was safe. Not only our volunteers, but those in the community,” said Falk.
Rachel’s Table took those voluneers off pick-up and delivery duty for a short time and instead began working with partners who have trucks of their own, such as Salvation Army.
“We partnered with our agencies to deliver food or worked in other ways to get food to people while still maintaining safety for our volunteers,” Falk said.
These partnerships include the Healthy Community Emergency Food Fund, in which Rachel’s Table partners with local food businesses to purchase and deliver healthy basics such as protein and produce to the soup kitchens, pantries and newly established homeless shelters in Hampden, Hampshire and Franklin Counties. Another partnership has been with Farmers to Families, a federal initiative started during the pandemic that works with farmers and other food producers to provide the hungry with fresh and wholesome food. Rachel’s Table received boxes of produce and other food from Farmers to Families and shared them with their agencies, including Home City Pantry of Housing Management Resources Properties in Springfield and the Project Hope Pantry of the House of Refuge Church in Chicopee.
One of its most important and enduring partnerships has been with the local community which continues to donate funds for Rachel’s Table work. “We couldn’t have done it without the community stepping up,” Falk said.
But while there is hopefully a light at the end of the tunnel when it comes to Covid-19, Rachel’s Table’s fight against hunger is far from over.
“People see that things are getting back to ‘normal’ with the vaccine and the economy getting better, all of which are true, but it’s also true that there are people who lost jobs who are not getting their jobs back. It’s also true that the need is still great and we can’t let those things be forgotten. Covid- related programs need to continue or they need to find programs to fill the gap. The need is not going away,” Falk explained.
“People say we are going to get back to normal, back to where it was. But ‘where it was’ was not acceptable,” said Maniaci. “There are 40 million people who are still hungry in our country, and so many tons of food still going to waste. It’s not acceptable and it’s not a normal we should aspire to return to.”
One way to change things is through public policy.
Rachel’s Table’s teen board members, known for their Outrun Hunger 5K run, have been working on ways to advocate for hunger relief by learning how to talk with and lobby legislators.
The teens are also key members of the new initiative Growing Gardens, which supports and mentors Rachel’s Table agencies who want to grow their own gardens. Some of the teen board members recently went to seven agencies with 640 donated starter plants. They helped two of the agencies to begin planting their gardens.
“These agencies will be able to grow their own food no matter if they in are rural, urban or suburban areas, in order to have choice and access to fresh, really good food.”
“We our doing our best, in the ways that we can, to support change,” Falked continued. “so that someday we won’t need these programs; so everybody has access.”
Main Photo: Suze Goldman, right, delivering Rachel’s Table’s first batch of grocery gift cards as a token of appreciation to the health care team at Care One in East Longmeadow on July 22 of last year.