| Sarah Heinonen
LONGMEADOW – An organization that reduces food waste while feeding those in need has come to Hampden County, the most food-insecure region in the state.
Lovin’ Spoonfuls is a non-profit that partners with grocery stores, produce wholesalers, farms, and farmers markets, to rescue the perishable food that would otherwise be thrown away. That food is then distributed to more than 150 community non-profits that feed hungry people.
“It’s quite the puzzle,” figuring out how to “be the most efficient and help the most people,” said Liz Ferguson, communications director for Lovin’ Spoonfuls.
The program works a set schedule of five days per week, explained Lovin' Spoonfuls Chief Operating Officer Lauren Palumbo. Each day, they pick up from different stores and deliver to various agencies based on scheduled needs. For example, if a food pantry is open on Mondays and Thursdays, those are the days that Lovin' Spoonfuls would deliver.
Most of what they pick up is produce, meat, and dairy. The meat is frozen by the sell-by date, therefore, extending its shelf life, and dairy is picked up near or before the sell-by date. The produce that is rescued is often slightly blemished or simply part of a display that is being cycled out by the store.
The Boston-based organization has grown organically in the Boston and Metro West areas, both through word-of-mouth and because many of the businesses and organizations the program works with have multiple locations. In Hampden County, however, Ferguson said, the program had to be created from scratch.
Palumbo said the expansion into Hampden County has been in the works for a couple of years. The organization had an interest in Hampden County because it has the highest rate of food-insecure children, Palumbo said.
“Forty million Americans are food insecure,” Palumbo told Reminder Publishing.
Palumbo said that Lovin’ Spoonfuls was able to expand due to funding from the 2019 state budget and private funders, which allowed them to purchase a freezer truck and hire Springfield native, Tyler Crawford to facilitate the pickups and donations. Lovin’ Spoonfuls’ Hampden County route runs through Chicopee, East Longmeadow, Holyoke, Longmeadow, South Hadley, Springfield and West Springfield.
Lovin’ Spoonfuls has partnered with seven Big Y locations in the county. In the first month in operation, the Hampden County route has rescued about 10,000 pounds of food each week.
“They call it rescue for a reason. It just seems to be a natural fit. We are thrilled to be the inaugural retail partner for Lovin’ Spoonfuls out here,” Charles D’Amour, president of Big Y Foods, said in a statement.
Eventually, the organization plans to partner with other grocery chains, Palumbo said. They also reached out to 17 organizations that address food insecurity, including Gray House, Springfield Family Resource Center, Margaret’s Pantry, and A Family Place.
“We're very happy that we have a partner in helping get food,” to people in need, said James Leydon, executive director for the Longmeadow Council on Aging.
The Council on Aging’s open pantry at the Greenwood Center is one of the non-profits to which Lovin’ Spoonfuls delivers.
State Rep. Brian M. Ashe, Executive Director of the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts Andrew Morehouse, Director of Rachel’s Table Jodi Falk, and D’Amour, joined Leyden at the Greenwood Center for a ceremony celebrating the launch of the new route.
The open pantry’s partnership with Lovin’ Spoonfuls began on July 9. Originally, the food pantry had been partnered with the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts who set them up in a partnership with Big Y where volunteers would collect the food, Erin Koebler, the outreach coordinator for the Longmeadow Council on Aging explained.
The Lovin' Spoonfuls partnership has allowed the food pantry to use their volunteers more effectively, while the organization’s freezer truck has given them the ability to hand out meat.
“It allowed us to diversify our offerings,” said Koebler, adding, “It's really great that we get it every week and we don’t have to store it here,” since space is the pantry’s number one limitation.
The only criteria for a resident to use the Longmeadow open pantry is proof of address. While the pantry collects financial information, they don’t use it as criteria, but to address the residents’ needs in “a holistic manner,” Koebler said.
The pantry requests that residents limit their use of the pantry to once per week. There is also a 50 pound limit per household per month. In other words, a household of four would be limited to 200 pounds of food per month. Most people don’t reach that limit, said Koebler.
In June, the pantry served 45 individual, though Koebler said that is a light month.
The open pantry, 231 Maple Rd., is open Tuesdays from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. and Fridays from 9 to 11 a.m. Koebler said that the pantry accepts donations Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.
To donate, find a pantry or a service near you, or learn more, visit lovinspoonfulsinc.org.