By Laura Dille
A mom called TABLE and told us she is so grateful for the fruits and vegetables they receive. She said she can’t afford to spend money on food unless she knows for sure that her kids will eat it, so TABLE is an opportunity for her children to try new-to-them nutritious foods. Their new family favorite is eggplant parmesan!
One of TABLE’s most important and unique pillars is providing fresh produce to kids. While fruits and vegetables are critical to the body’s health and development, it can be difficult for our families to afford and can be challenging for food access organizations, like TABLE, to distribute. Over the years, we’ve had several people reach out to ask how we include fresh produce in our programs, when food is put in the bags, how it is shuffled around our building, and then how it is delivered to homes (or, pre-COVID, delivered to schools and classrooms before being transported home on school buses).
Whether you are another food access organization looking to grow your programs, or just a curious reader, here is how we incorporate fresh fruits and vegetables into our weekly bags.
Developing Local Partnerships
We order fresh produce through wholesale distributors and local farms. We also receive donations from community gardens and home gardeners with an abundance, as well as donors who purchase fresh food from the store for us. Some of our wonderful partners include:
- Layton’s Wholesale
- Farmer Foodshare
- Weaver Street Market
- Wildflower Lane Farm
- Sankofa Farm
- Gabor Farm
- Elysian Fields Farm
- Mt. Carmel Baptist Church
- University United Methodist Church – Giving Garden
- Chapel Hill Farmer’s Market
Creating Efficient Packaging and Delivery Processes
Over the years we’ve had to re-evaluate many times our processes for storing, bagging and delivering food to ensure it was the most efficient for our volunteers and for the kids we serve. We have limited space for volunteers, to set up food to be bagged, and to store food with only 6 standard refrigerators. For these reasons, we have bagging and delivery shifts every Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. And, our produce partners deliver food to us several times per week to support these shifts ensuring the food is fresh when we package it for our kids.
Prior to COVID we would deliver our bags of food to schools where our participating kids attended and then the food would be given to them at school. This worked for many years but we did learn that certain fresh food, such as leafy greens and softer produce including tomatoes, didn’t travel well in schools and school buses.
COVID forced us to re-evaluate many aspects of our operations but how we delivered food to kids was one of the most critical. We changed our processes and now deliver food every week directly to the homes of the kids we serve. This allows us to include more fresh produce of all varieties.
And, we’ve learned through trial and error to package the bags in order in our assembly line to avoid fresh food from becoming “injured” along the way – dry goods first, then heavy fresh food items (potatoes or apples), then more fragile fresh items on top.
Because we do aim to purchase much of our food from local farmers (and often organic), we reduce the number of “food miles“ traveled, and maintain high-quality, maximum freshness.
Providing Nutrition Education
Remember the mom from earlier who cooked eggplant parmesan for her kids? A lot of the food we distribute may be new to the families we serve. I, Laura, have tried a lot of new foods because of TABLE, too!
In our monthly newsletter, we include recipes like this one so families know how to prepare the food we deliver and learn a few things about the food they are eating.
How Can You Help?
TABLE, and TABLE families, are so grateful for the community’s support in providing fresh food for all local kids! If you’d like to help, options include:
- Donate fresh produce early in the week (Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday, to ensure it gets delivered at its freshest) – anything you’ve grown yourself or purchased!
- Donate money to the “TABLE fund” at the Chapel Hill Farmers Market. When market shoppers donate money at the information booth, TABLE is then able to use those funds to buy produce from farmers at the Market.
- Help us purchase more refrigeration! In our new, future home, we are installing walk-in refrigeration to adequately store food for all our kids.
- Sign up to deliver food directly to kids’ homes. We have 45 volunteers every week who deliver food to kids across Orange County and are always in need of help. This is an essential part of our process to ensure the food is as fresh as possible when it gets to our kids’ homes.