Editor’s note: Gail Callahan emailed a series of questions to Tom Zenaty, the Board Chair of the Shelburne Food Shelf, to talk about the organization, the services it provides, and how it is meeting the needs of Shelburne’s residents.
Longtime Shelburne resident Val Martel and her husband ran the Shelburne Food Shelf for decades. When Val passed away in March 2015, the Shelburne Social Services Committee, along with Rev. Greg Smith of the Shelburne United Methodist Church, initiated a series of meetings of interested residents to discuss how to sustain and improve the Food Shelf, leading to the Aug. 2015 naming of a Board of Directors.
Gail Callahan: Who operates the Food Shelf and assists clients?
Tom Zenaty: [It] is overseen by a team of eight board members, including officers. Subcommittees (Operations, Finance, Communications and Non-Food Aid), are made up of board members who attend to the details inherent in each of those aspects of our organization.
During food distributions, a board member joins a team of volunteers.
GC: What changes have you made in your first year?
TZ: Monthly food shopping hours have increased and families can now access food twice a month. We are now seeing two to three times the total number of households served. A refrigerator and freezer have been purchased. As a result we are able to regularly offer perishables such as produce, eggs, meat, bread, cheese, and milk. We facilitated the provision of lunches for children who attended the three-week SCS summer school this year.
GC: With the holiday season approaching, what does the FS need?
TZ: Monetary donations are our most critical need currently. Tax-deductible donations can be made by sending checks to Shelburne Food Shelf, PO Box 763, Shelburne, Vt. 05482 or by making a secure contribution by hitting the ‘Donate’ button on our website: http://www.shelburnefoodshelf.org/home.html.
We encourage everyone to visit our website for more information. Hunger does not go on vacation, and food donations throughout the year are very important to sustaining our operation.
GC: What services do you offer?
TZ: We help our guests identify their food needs and access items that work best for their families. We consider requests for emergency financial assistance to help with such things as utility bills. We may refer them to agencies better equipped to assist with ongoing financial or other social service needs. We are sometimes able to offer clothing vouchers.
GC: How many clients do you serve each month? Who are they?
TZ: We have increased the times the food shelf is open significantly, to four times a month. Households can access food twice a month. The numbers of clients have trended upward significantly during our first year. Monthly averages over Sept.-Nov. 2016 include 55 households, 72 children, and 21 seniors, with 186 people receiving food.
Our clients come from all walks of life. We honor their privacy and we are aware some are challenged by disability, health, or domestic violence issues; many work; some have recently lost jobs and/or are struggling to pay bills.
GC: Does the Food Shelf ever experience a dip in donations?
TZ: The majority of our financial donations come at the end of the calendar year – and we welcome them any time. We see an uptick in food donations around the holidays and we receive food from many quarters year-round. Clearly the needs of our clients exist throughout the year. Just one example: SCS’s Free and Reduced Meals Program, one many food-insecure families depend on, is not available during school vacations. We are studying how additional nutrition for those families might happen in a targeted program during summer.
We encourage potential food donors to visit our website to learn about the foods we need and about some options for organized food collections. We benefit from food drives coordinated with us when possible.
GC: It must be important for people who work with the Food Shelf to make sure clients’ dignity is maintained.
TZ: We do our best to be welcoming to everyone and our volunteers do a great job in creating that atmosphere. The increase in the number of clients accessing us is likely a testament to those efforts. We do not ask people to prove their household income. We do look for confirmation that clients live in Shelburne. We have an emergency food box for folks who come to us from other communities and will direct them to the food shelf that is closest to their home.
Folks [who need assistance] can call us: 802-622-3313.
GC: Tell us about the support the Food Shelf receives from the community?
TZ: The faith communities in town have historically been strong supporters of the Food Shelf. We have benefitted from many food drives organized by several of them, to say nothing of many individual and group financial donations from church members.
The Town of Shelburne has graciously allowed us to use space on the first floor of the town offices building for the Food Shelf distributions, as well as a portion of the Activity Room next door for storage and a refrigerator. Special mention should be made of the regular support Betsy Cieplicki and Sue Craig of the Recreation Department give to us.
A wide variety of other individuals and groups support us. The range is humbling and impressive: from food donated from a child’s birthday party or a scout troop; to spinning or yoga classes; to business offering in-kind donations of labor or equipment; to clothing vouchers; to produce, cheese, pastries and bread from various organizations. We benefit greatly from the generosity of our neighbors and we could not sustain our services in this entirely volunteer-driven organization without that support.