Recent efforts to expand the choices available to local families in need were celebrated last week during a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the Comprehensive Community Action Program’s newly expanded Choice Food Bank.
“Food banks are changing, and we’re always trying to bring dignity and respect to people who are in need of things,” said Lee Beliveau, CCAP’s vice president for development and corporate affairs. “Our goal for becoming a choice food bank was to create a comfortable, familiar and dignified shopping experience similar to what people experience in a retail grocery store, and to encourage healthy food choices.”
According to CCAP, the new model for the food bank was adopted in December 2018. Unlike the previous, more traditional model – in which clients received pre-packaged bags with set allotments of various items – the new model provides what the agency calls a “supermarket-style” experience in which clients have more choice over what items they take home.
“This really gives people a choice,” Beliveau said. “They can shop like [they would] in a regular grocery store.”
The benefits of the new model, according to CCAP, are many.
“Offering clients a variety of choice provides a more meaningful service that allows shoppers to tailor their selections based on preferences and cultural or dietary needs … An atmosphere of participation and choice lends dignity to a process that is difficult and humbling for many of our neighbors and friends,” a release from the agency reads.
The choice model allows the agency to track the items that are in highest demand and adjust its U.S. Department of Agriculture commodity orders accordingly. The new approach also increases efficiency, according to CCAP, since shoppers leave only with items they have chosen and are thus reduces the among of food that goes unused or is given away.
Beliveau said the expansion of the Choice Food Bank was made possible through donations and a $10,000 legislative grant secured by House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello (D-Dist. 15, Cranston). The funding allowed for the acquisition of upgraded equipment, including freezers.
“I’m proud to support the important work that CCAP does, and congratulate them on opening the expanded choice food bank, a vital resource for families facing food insecurity,” Mattiello said in a statement.
In conjunction with the Choice Food Bank, CCAP last week celebrated a new aspect of its ongoing partnership with the Rotary Club of Cranston.
A new Community Greenhouse has been built next to the agency’s Doric Avenue headquarters in Cranston, and it – along with other planned garden spaces – will be used to grow fresh produce for local families utilizing CCAP’s services.
“As we looked to expand the food bank and really bring healthy choices to people, part of that is having fresh produce,” Beliveau said. “We took a look at how we could do that, and we came up with building a greenhouse, building gardens.”
Lori Adamo, president of the Rotary Club of Cranston, said her organization and CCAP have a “proud history of working together.”
The club, she said, has run a “Share the Love” food drive around Valentine’s Day for the last four years, asking elementary schools to collect food items for CCAP’s Food Bank. The class that collects the most food is rewarded with a pizza party. Last year, she said, the effort collected approximately 1.2 tons of food.
“That’s part of supporting our community, supporting the families in our community,” she said.
Adamo said the Rotary Club provided labor and financial support for the greenhouse. There is also an outdoor area for planting and harvesting. She said the University of Rhode Island’s Cooperative Extension will provide guidance in how to best cultivate produce, and the club will provide an annual donation to help purchase needed materials. Members of Boy Scout Troop 66 in Cranston will also be involved.
Adamo praised the club’s “great supporters and volunteers,” and spoke highly of CCAP’s Choice Food Bank project.
“Healthy eating is just really the way to go today,” Adamo said. “It’s our future. The Cranston Rotary Club feels like it’s bringing a lasting change to our families.”
Beliveau said CCAP is working with the city of Cranston to identify other sites that might house community gardens. He said plans also call for clients to have the opportunity to take seedlings home “so they can grow fresh produce and pick it themselves.”
CCAP’s Food Bank serves more than 800 people each month. In 2018, it distributed more than 230,000 pounds of food – more than 80 percent of which was donated through community food drives.
“That’s so important to us,” Beliveau said.
The food bank’s hours are 9:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. and 2-4 p.m. on Monday, Tuesday and Friday; 9:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. and 2:30-6:30 p.m. on Wednesday; and 10 a.m.-1 p.m. on Friday.
For more information, visit comcap.org. Individuals or organizations interested in holding a donation drive for the food bank may contact Beliveau at email@example.com.