In my first few weeks here I kept hearing people talk about ‘the food center’ but I really didn’t understand what they were referring to or how it worked- to me it was just a vague location that people disappeared to sometimes. Then last week I went on a tour of the Gemma E. Moran United Way/Labor Food Center, and I finally understood what all the fuss is about (spoiler alert: it’s a really cool place).
I was surprised to learn early in my tour that UWSECT is the only United Way that runs its own food center, but it soon became clear why this isn’t a part of every United Way- it’s a huge undertaking! When I came into the front office area I was greeted by both staff and volunteers who were busy doing the administrative tasks that keep such a large operation running smoothly. I was taken through a hallway and into the storage area, a huge warehouse with walk-in freezers larger than my living room (several of them!). We walked past bins where cans of soup and peanut butter waited to be sorted, and shelves with cases of tuna, all marked with the amount that each partner agency can receive depending on their size. I learned that the center tries to maintain a balance of the types of items in store. For example, if they receive a lot of peanut butter they want to make sure they have enough jelly to keep up with demand, and large amounts of pasta will hopefully be accompanied by pasta sauce. The center won’t turn down food, so if there is a surplus of items it will coordinate with the Connecticut Food Bank to get those items to where they are most needed, in exchange for products that people in our community can use.
From the short time I spent in the food center, it was clear that everyone involved is committed to being both efficient and thorough. All items are weighed when they arrive and before they leave, temperatures are kept in a specific range, and expiration dates are checked to ensure safety and quality. As someone who has volunteered in a number of different food distribution agencies, I was impressed at the attention to detail and care that was taken. In one room, volunteers were going through produce to make sure it was fresh and repackaging loads of potatoes into smaller family-size bags. I learned that while the staff is essential, it’s volunteers who really fuel the day-to-day progress of the center. Whether they come in every week or just once, it was easy to how the work of each volunteer makes a tangible impact.
I really enjoyed touring the food center, so much so that I went home and told my family all about it. I can’t believe that so many people don’t even know where it is! I definitely recommend volunteering there, running a food drive, or making a donation.
In a few weeks I’ll be visiting the mobile food pantry, and I can’t wait!