Presentation is Key15 May 2019, by AmeriCorps VISTA, Food Bank, Food for Others, Harvest Against Hunger, National Site, Virginia in
Maheyaar Barron is the Gleaning and Produce Recovery Coordinator at Food for Others, a food bank and pantry located in Fairfax, Virginia. The organization services the northern region of the state through a multitude of programs such as emergency food aid, weekend meals for elementary school children, neighborhood site deliveries, and community partner support. The gleaning program, which began in 2017 in partnership with Harvest Against Hunger, connects local growers to families in need, bringing in fresh produce directly from farms, farmers markets, and community gardens.
As the Farmers’ Markets season begins, the streets abound with wicker baskets, colorful displays of fruits and vegetables, and smiling faces. The uncharacteristically heavy rain has done little to dampen the excitement, and both farmers and shoppers gear up for the over twenty-two markets the region has to offer. A similar process begins over at Food for Others, where VISTA Maheyaar Barron and the rest of the team make place for the thousands of pounds of fresh produce soon to come through the warehouse doors. Space is cleared in the food banks walk-through Choice Section, the primary distribution point for the new gleanings.
The Farmers’ Market experience is one that is hard to replicate at the food bank. Limited funds mean that the picturesque wicker baskets are replaced with plastic or cardboard containers. Instead of sunshine, the fresh produce is framed with canned goods, grey flooring, and harsh, white lighting. The mood of shoppers also differs, as their presence in the space is out of necessity rather than choice.
Maheyaar has been trying to research and brainstorm ways to make the space more inviting, building on the work of his predecessors. Grace, last year’s VISTA, had added her own flair, marking the days produce on small chalkboard signs, including recipes and nutrition facts, etc. So what’s next? Luckily, Food for Others is moving forward with a long-awaited building project and will be constructing a whole new room for the Choice Section. With better lighting, temperature control, and display, the hope is to increase not only the volume of produce taken but also the number of shoppers moving through the space at one time. With all this in place, Maheyaar’s focus can shift to nutrition knowledge dissemination, making sure the shopper knows the what and why of what they are taking home.
Ambiance is essential in making the families feel comfortable, supported, and respected. It is also a way to incentivize healthy choices. Supermarkets spend large sums of time and money sprucing up their produce displays, and while their goals may be different, the strategies are the same. Learning from and reaching out to local stores may be the next step.