Robin Knight, volunteer
When asked why she volunteers for Growing to Give, Robin Knight said, “I go there because I want to feed people.”
Having to work multiple jobs to raise two girls on her own, Robin has experience having to depend on food assistance programs. “I know what it is like to open your fridge or your cabinet and not have a whole lot in there. I know what it’s like to wonder how you’re going to feed your kids. Working to earn a living in public housing, there were plenty of times myself when I had to go for help,” Robin said.
However, back in the 80s, without the food banks and pantries that exist today, food stamps and WIC programs only provided Robin and her girls with items such as milk and cereal. “We couldn’t get vegetables. And it’s so important to have fresh, good healthy food.”
Volunteering for a food bank, Robin came across an advertisement for Growing to Give and immediately responded. “I replied saying, ‘I want to do this.’ I don’t know what it was, but I was like a dog with a bone.”
Though combating hunger motivates Robin to continue volunteering her time at the farm, she has also grown to love the community. “When we walk in there, there is always a plan. We know what we need to do and we do it. And in the process, everyone is so kind to each other.”
Kelly Davis, gleaning partner
The Merrymeeting Gleaners began working with Growing to Give in 2017. Now, Growing to Give supplies a third of what the Merrymeeting Gleaners donate each year.
Each week, Kelly Davis sends out an email to around 35 different types of organizations serving people who are food insecure in the region, asking how much and which produce they would like to receive. Some organizations hold a standing order with the gleaners and may expect a standard delivery each week.
Next, Kelly coordinates team leaders and volunteers and hands off these lists and instructions for harvesting and delivery.
“We’re always open to taking on more farms, more community partners, and we of course have an ever-evolving list of volunteers,” said Kelly. “If you add to your work, you also have to add your volunteers. And all that kind of has to happen in sync.”
Kelly hopes to continue this model of gradual growth on both ends, which has so far worked exceptionally. Though Kelly has had to make some changes due to COVID-19, the adjustments have not resulted in slowed work or inability to meet need. Rather, volunteers have adjusted to revised protocol and new farms have jumped on board to meet increased need.
Jodi Malone, recipient organization
The Neighborhood Cafe, Bath
“Good food isn’t just for fancy people,” Jodi said, excited about the fact that she can now provide people with access to fresh vegetables. For the past year, The Neighborhood Cafe in Bath has received produce from Growing to Give through Merrymeeting Gleaners.
This past March, the cafe celebrated its 10th anniversary. For over a decade, the organization has been working to address issues of food insecurity with a focus on building community through the sharing of meals.
Jodi Malone, chief chef, explained that what sets the Neighborhood Cafe apart from other soup kitchens is that there is “no distinct line between service and those served.” Many individuals who come because they need a meal also work as a volunteer for the kitchen. “It’s very important to us that it’s apparent we’re all in this together and no one is above anyone else,” said Jodi.
The cafe serves mostly middle aged and older people, many of whom are living in public housing. Jodi cooks meals for people with not the goal of merely feeding people, but providing individuals with a sense of belonging. “For us, everyone is hungry, but the one we really want to work on is the loneliness.”
Getting people to eat more vegetables is important to Jodi. She recounted that just recently, she observed a man eat a meal, but pushing all of the peas aside. After encouraging him to try just one pea, she was pleased to see that he later finished all of them.
Prior to working with the gleaners group, Jodi relied mostly upon supermarket vegetables that were “on edge.” Since making the switch to locally grown produce, she has not only seen people enjoy their meals more, but actively choose healthier options. “They are realizing that they just don’t need all the sauce and cheese. More and more people are taking the vegetarian and vegan meals and being more adventurous in general because the vegetables shine,” said Jodi.
While Jodi is accustomed to making somewhere between 60-80 meals per week, in recent months she has made anywhere between 100-120 meals per week. Though her biggest meal times are Sunday dinners and Monday lunches, throughout the course of the course of the week, many people stick their head in the back door and can reliably count on Jodi to put a meal together for them.
“The produce has raised people’s expectations. We’re not gonna settle for mediocre anymore because we don’t have to.”