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jen fournier

May 1, 2017

National statistics keep the story at arms length – one in six American families struggle with what today is called “food insecurity.” Those people do not know whether they have enough food for the week. Closer to home, one estimate says there are 82,000 people in Worcester County who aren't certain of having enough food to eat from day to day.

In Barre, those statistics become people with names and faces; families and children; people with abilities and disabilities. They include seniors and shut-ins.

In Barre a core group of volunteers has been reaching out to help100 families each and every month for more than 30 years. Members of the Barre Food Pantry come together on the second Wednesday of each month to organize a food distribution as a mission of the Congregational Church on the common and home delivery for shut-ins. Their efforts are made possible by support from the community and from local businesses.

In April, the volunteers received and distributed 600 pounds of Easter hams from Hannaford Supermarkets along with fresh produce, dozens and dozens of local eggs, milk, juice and, non-perishable items collected in local food drives and from the Worcester County Food Bank.

A core group of long-time volunteers helps keep the food pantry running each month. They include David Petrovick, director and treasurer, who spends much of his time recruiting support from local donors and businesses; Chuck Radlo, who covers shopping for food at the Worcester County Food Bank, inventory control, shut-ins, and is the listed point person for distribution and care of emergencies. Richard Barca helps with shopping at WCFB, bag carrying and shut-in deliveries; Angel Morrison manages logistics like room set-up and inventory rotation. She also helps with shut-in deliveries. Nan Petrovick handles incoming financial contributions and related paperwork.

Michelle Bertrand coordinates donations from grocery stores (bread, pastries, meats), logistics, shut-ins, inventory control and rotation; Sonja Blaney does volunteer coordination, logistics, bag filling and; room set up; Venerable Man Shing and Diane Champigny handle client sign-in and prepare reports for the USDA. Cindy Jenkins and Mary Beschta handle produce, arrange with Country Hen for fresh eggs and assist with logistics. Church Secretary Wendy Isgro takes calls during the month and volunteeers at distribution as well. Their efforts are augmented on distribution days by more than a dozen other volunteers.

This spring, a new volunteer is adding a dimension to the food distributions – cooking the food.

Distributions begin as recipients check in at the Congregational Church community hall. During the registration hour, Jen Fournier of Barre,  a dietitian, now offers cooking samples and demonstrations. She said food, plus people plus a kitchen equals cooking of food items from the   monthly distribution.

.“I have been a registered dietitian for 17 years. I started doing classes and demonstrations at UMass in Worcester. When I found out the degree of need in Barre,  it just called me to action.  I wondered if I could be of service,” she said.

At the April distribution, “I put up a sign offering a few (cooking) options and cooked some samples. This was my second month. I think it's going OK. People are starting to come up and talk to me. I am doing simple, whole foods and I am starting with what people like – with simple ingredients that are fast and tasty. I am trying to think about one-pot meals.

“I get a sense of what the staples are each month. I am trying to go with five ingredients or fewer and I am working with what I see going out in the bags. I know that canned goods and rice are staples, so last month, I made a chili and rice. It is important to be set up and ready to go when people come in to register. I have been approaching this very much as an observer. I'm not probing, but my sense is that some people have very little skill and few resources. I'm trying to keep it right where people are living.”

“I just take really simple ingredients and put them together with a lot of love.” She passes out the samples she makes during food pantry registration and distribution hours.

Fournier said she started thinking about the Barre food pantry after a holiday gathering in Hardwick where she met a woman who has been cooking for a free community meal in that town. Then, she said, her husband saw a flyer for the food pantry. “Our first action was to donate some cash. Then he got on an e-mail list. “I was moved by the people who are involved and by the clarity of the mission, so I called.”

Fournier said much of our food may be easy and cheap, but it is not necessarily healthy. “A lot of “cooking” has become just mixing processed foods together. We are wired to like a certain combination of fat, sugar and salt. Our reward centers light up and the food manufacturers know that,” she said. Starting from scratch with fresh ingredients doesn’t have to be difficult. Some of it is just confidence building,” she said.

Fournier plans to continue her cooking demonstrations and handing out tasty samples of her results at the food pantry in the months to come. “I am going to keep doing it for at least the next two or three months. My schedule in the summer should make it easier,” she said.

Chuck Radlo said much of the food pantry's work happens outside of the limelight. Between monthly distributions, Radlo checks on the inventory and plans a supply run to the Worcester County Food Bank. Petrovick seeks continuing support from the Barre Family Health Center doctors and staff, the Lions Club and others. Bertrand checks in regularly with Hannaford and others to keep donations flowing. Morrison and others handle emergency needs. Blaney organizes volunteers and Bertrand manages food donations and food drives.

Radlo said, “We are always in need of more volunteers on the general principle that many hands make light work. Somehow, the monthly miracle take place whether there is a large number of volunteers on hand or not. The specific focus for new volunteers is either Tuesday night where much of the preparation takes place or Wednesday morning when we distribute the food.

People who want to volunteer are welcome to just show up about 9:30 on the second Wednesday of the month and we will happily fit them in. We are also happy to have help from 6:30 p.m. the evening before as we pack grocery bags and set up tables, Radlo said. Business support, local food drives and individual financial donations are also an important part of the equation, he said.

Organizations and businesses in town can help in a variety of ways. Contact David Petrovick (987-355-4519) or Chuck Radlo (978-355-6463). for specifics.


April 12 Distribution

On April 12th, we provided 169 pre-filled bags of canned and dry foods to 91 households totaling 206 people in our towns.  This represents 3 new client households comprising 4 people and 88 previous households of 202 people.  After distribution, there were two pre-filled bags left to cover emergency needs and to begin preparation for our April distribution.
In addition to the pre-filed bags, fresh produce, baked goods, juices, other groceries and frozen meat was made available for clients to shop and choose at distribution.

At our April distribution for the second month in a row, volunteer Jen Fournier of Barre, a Registered Dietician, cooked up a delicious example of what can be made with the foods we offer to our clients and provided tastes to clients and volunteers alike.  We welcome Jen back to our May distribution next Wednesday the 10th.

Ways you can help:

Organize a food drivePlan a dinner or other charity event.

Hello, fellow volunteers and supporters--
On Wednesday, September 14th, we distributed food to a total of 82 clients including 2 first-time clients and 80 for whom this was not their first visit.  They represented a total of 171 household members including 7 new recipients.  This distribution left thirty-four pre-assembled bags in the closet for emergency distribution and to begin preparing for our October 12 distribution in another week.
While all contributions are  welcome, donations of food to the pantry between now and our next distribution on Oct. 12 would be most helpful if they concentrated on the above foods. As you may know, clients who receive SNAP benefits, formerly called food stamps, are not able to spend their benefits on needed paper goods, diapers, and any other non-food household supplies.  While not the primary mission of the Barre Food Pantry, donations in any of these categories are most welcome too. 
Clients, volunteers, friends and supporters have responded so enthusiastically to our request for clean empty egg cartons that we are back to having enough in hand that we are challenged to find storage for them until they can be used.  So if you have been saving empty egg cartons for the Food Pantry, we ask you to hang on to them for a while until our current supply depletes.  We’ll let you know when we need them again.  Thanks!

We have received the dollar figures the Federal government will be using in the coming year to qualify would-be clients for emergency food assistance.  These household income levels apply both to SNAP benefits and federally-provided (through the U.S. Department of Agriculture) food pantry aid.  
Thank you for all your help and support.  We really couldn't do it without you.

Oakham Center School donated an additional 70 lbs. of food and New Braintree School donated 24 lbs. of food.

The Oakham Center School collected Collected 71 lbs. of food for the food bank during its May food drive. The school will be continuing the food drive till June 17th.  The New Braintree School will be joining the food drive and will also continue till June 17th.  Contact information is Karen Miller at kmiller@qrsd.org or Michelle Bertrand 774-757-7888 for more information. The food bank serves Oakham, Barre and New Braintree with monthly food distributions and  emergency food deliveries.


Drop off non-perishables at the library or the Barre Family Health Center.

Contact Michelle Bertrand at the food bank
 774-757-7888 for information about how  your group can hold a food drive.

Call Sonja - we can always use volunteers to help
set up the monthly distribution, carry groceries for clients each month or help deliver to shut-ins.
For information about volunteering call Sonja @ (978) 355-6921. For emergency assistance or answers to other questions call Chuck @ (978) 355-6463 We will return your call.


You can help our work in the  community by Sponsoring a Food Drive, by making a donation or by giving of your time.

For information about volunteering call Sonja @ (978) 355-6921. For emergency assistance or answers to other questions call Chuck @ (978) 355-6463 We will return your call.

The Barre Food Pantry is located at the Barre Congregational Church on Park Street.