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Column: Stepping up to fight food insecurity

For the Valley News
Published: 11/25/2020 10:20:08 PM
Modified: 11/25/2020 10:20:04 PM

When the story is written about the Upper Valley’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, I hope space will be set aside to tell the tale of “the little nonprofit that could.”

I’m referring, of course, to Willing Hands, which has considerably stepped up its game in 2020 to become one of the big engines of food delivery in the Upper Valley and beyond. On any given day, big white trucks emblazoned with the nonprofit’s distinctive logo could be seen transporting tons of fruits, vegetables and whole-grain breads up and down the Connecticut River Valley.

For Willing Hands, “stepping up its game” took many forms — from partnering with The Upper Valley Haven and Listen Community Services in the development of an “Upper Valley Food Security Plan” to making extra food deliveries to organizations ranging from local food shelves and pantries to homeless shelters and low-income housing complexes. Not to mention recruiting as many as 400 volunteers to both grow and glean produce from area farms. The end result: By mid-November, Willing Hands recovered, grew and gleaned a record 730,000 pounds of food for distribution to recipients.

While the range and scope of its work is impressive, what really makes Willing Hands stand out is how much community support it enjoys and how much community cohesiveness it engenders. From its founding in 2004, its quest “to redirect healthful, good quality food from the waste stream to organizations serving people in need” captured the Upper Valley’s imagination.

I first bore witness to this phenomenon almost 10 years ago while serving as a member of United Way’s grant review team. As I remember it, while we wrangled over which deserving petitioners should be given the limited funds at our disposal, one organization received a full allotment without question. Fast forward to the present and Willing Hands continues to collaborate with — and win support from — a multitude of Upper Valley institutions.

Seeking gardening or gleaning volunteers to supplement an army of retirees? Try Hypertherm or Youth-in-Action or Upper Valley Young Professionals. Looking for places to grow produce? How about Cedar Circle Farm or the Upper Valley Land Trust’s Brookmead Food Pantry Garden or Dartmouth-Hitchcock’s Farmacy Garden. Seeking food donations? Look no further than King Arthur Baking Co. or Pete and Gerry’s or almost any farm within driving distance.

And the Co-op Food Stores maintains the ties that bind by designating Willing Hands as one of its “Food Access Partners,” along with The Haven and Listen. This designation allows Willing Hands to participate in the “Pennies for Change” program, which provides the three partners with monthly contributions from customers who volunteer to “round up” their tabs at the cash registers.

Anywhere you turn in the Upper Valley there are people willing and eager to help the “little non-profit that could” combat food waste and improve health and food security within our communities.

Skip Sturman, of Thetford, is director emeritus of Dartmouth Career Services and a longtime Willing Hands volunteer.




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