GREATER WESTFIELD – Teens from Westfield and Southwick are encouraged to consider unique volunteer opportunities with Rachel’s Table – including joining a Teen Board – that addresses food insecurity and childhood hunger in the region.
A special film night is slated Jan. 10 – via Zoom – to introduce teens to Rachel’s Table, a program of the Jewish Federation of Western Massachusetts. As part of the 7-9 p.m. program, the documentary titled “Hungry to Learn” will be shown.
“This film is relatively new and is about the growing challenge of food insecurity on college campuses, something our teens may be confronted with as they enter the college scene, a time which can create financial challenges for all,” said Jodi Falk, Ph.D., director, Rachel’s Table.
“Our film night has been an eye-opening experience for many of our young people, whom, for the most part, have not had to deal with not knowing where their next meal is coming from,” said Falk. “Our goal is not only to recruit folks to the Teen Board, but more importantly, to engage new youth in understanding the issue of hunger, recognizing hunger’s various roots, and learning to advocate for change and make a difference in small, tangible ways and larger, more systematic ways.”
Falk explained that one of the organization’s “routes” in Westfield to collect food pre-pandemic was from Westfield State University. The food that had been collected from Westfield State was delivered to Our House, a program of Domus, Inc., that serves homeless young adults, ages 18-24.
“Since 2019, we have worked with Westfield State University as one of our food donors, and got connected to them because of a WSU student’s project in a class,” said Falk. “From his project came the beginning of our Westfield work, keeping food local, as we had drivers bring the food from Westfield State to Our House, some of them WSU students themselves.”
Falk said as a driver base in Westfield grew to eight local residents, the organization added a weekly stop at C&S Wholesale on Summit Lock Road to pick up food.
“Most importantly, Westfield was the city we piloted our wonderful partnership with the Food Bank of Western MA enabled agency program,” said Falk. “In the last months of 2019, we picked up, through this partnership, five days a week, hundreds of pounds of healthy produce and brought it to the Westfield Food Pantry and the Samaritan Inn.”
As the COVID-19 pandemic took hold in the region, it was necessary to reduce the trips for the safety of the drivers.
“We are still delivering this produce twice weekly and we also produced some interesting programs with the Food Pantry connecting a local food business to bring delicious meals to their clientele,” said Falk. “We are grateful to Chicopee Charitable Savings for their support of some of our work in Westfield.”
Falk said as cliché as it sounds – our youth are our future.
“Of course – first, the Teen Board is a group of truly awesome individuals,” said Falk. “Watching these young people serve our community in all of the ways they do, educate themselves and others in smart, bold and caring ways about food insecurity and childhood hunger, and seeing their amazing energy to help out, to do something to make a difference, is one of the best parts of my job as director and Rachel’s Table as a program.”
For 18-year-old Hailey Stuck, who attends West Springfield High School, she is encouraging friends from Westfield to join her on the Teen Board where she has served for four years and has held the role of vice president of programming for two years.
“I’ve participated in almost every event and I’ve loved every minute of it,” said Stuck. “I’ve made so many great friends through Rachel’s Table and made amazing memories participating in our big activities like gleaning, Foodraiser, and the Out Run Hunger 5k.”
Stuck said she encourages teens to consider joining Rachel’s Table and has personally reached out to teens at Westfield Technical Academy since her brother is a sophomore in the electronics program.
“I’m working with him to connect to some of his peers and friends to get them engaged in our organization,” said Stuck, adding, “It’s such a great way to connect with the community and really work hands-on to make a difference in our area, both alleviating hunger and increasing awareness of it.”
Stuck added that her participation has been an “incredibly rewarding feeling” to be a part of such a “powerful team.”
“The Teen Board is made up of some of the most friendly, outgoing, and caring people I’ve ever met,” said Stuck. “Joining Rachel’s Table Teen Board is a great way to not only give back but to meet new people who share your interest in the wellness of the community.”
Stuck has also introduced Rachel’s Table to two of her friends, Kathryn O’Connor, 17, and Carly O’Connor, 16, both who attend Westfield High School. Both students have participated in the Foodraiser fundraiser, a shopping competition with all food purchased this fall benefiting Providence Ministries, the Amherst Survival Center, and the Franklin County Community Meals Program.
“It’s really fun and a great way to get involved in the community,” said Kathryn O’Connor.
Carly O’Connor shared a similar sentiment.
“It’s an amazing way to give back to others and meet new people,” she said.
Rebecca Mitrani Marmor, director of the Teen Board, said that 2021 promises to be an exciting time for teens to consider joining the organization.
“Our film recruitment night is a great opportunity for teens to learn more about the Teen Board and the work that we do,” she said. “We also have a bunch of events coming up in the spring, such as the Artsfest as well as a visit to Gardening the Community in Springfield.”
For teens interested in joining the Zoom program, or for more information, contact Marmor via email to [email protected]. The deadline to sign up to attend the Zoom event is the morning of Jan. 10.
Since 1992, Rachel’s Table, a food rescue program, has delivered millions of pounds of healthy yet unsaleable food to millions of people in the Pioneer Valley. Starting in Springfield, from the humble desire of a few women to reduce the waste of food from a few restaurants and bakeries while alleviating local hunger, Rachel’s Table has grown into a region-wide food redistribution program that delivers more than 70,000 pounds of food a month to 53 agencies, partners with dozens of local and national nonprofits, and engages thousands of people to deliver food weekly, glean in local farms, outrun hunger, and now virtually shop for the food insecure with the first-ever product donation platform, Onedeeds.