N.H. Food Bank meets challenge with innovation

Not much more than a Manchester side road, West Brook Street runs perpendicular to Canal Street and Elm Street, connecting the city’s mill and business districts. For the most part, the red brick structures on West Brook Street are nondescript — some house people, some businesses. One however — not quite halfway between Canal and Elm — is home to the New Hampshire Food Bank, where rows of shelves, lines of tables and walk-in and drive-in freezers are stocked with enough food to keep nearly 95,000 people from going hungry in New Hampshire each year.

An increasing need for assistance and declining supply of food have members of the New Hampshire Food Bank family poised to launch a series of innovative programs to ensure the needs of New Hampshire’s hungry continue to be met.

A program of New Hampshire Catholic Charities, the New Hampshire Food Bank has been distributing food to emergency shelters, soup kitchens, food pantries and other nonprofit organizations throughout the Granite State since 1984.

“We are an agency that provides food to agencies that feed the hungry,” said Melanie Gosselin, the Food Bank’s executive director since 2003.

Anywhere from 30,000 pounds of dry goods, canned goods, produce, dairy products and meats are shipped from the Food Bank daily – a number that can rise to 60,000 pounds during the holiday season.

Supplies are replenished through donations from area grocers, supermarkets, farmers, individuals and the nation’s largest hunger-relief organization, America’s Second Harvest, which distributes to 200 food banks across the country food collected from manufacturers, government programs and other donors.

New programs bring promises

Much has changed at the New Hampshire Food Bank since it first opened its doors 24 years ago.

While nearly 250,000 pounds of food was passed out during its inaugural year, the agency now distributes 4.5 million pounds of food to 350 agencies annually. And, said Gosselin, the need is growing.

“Our agencies are telling us their demand is up 30 to 40 percent,” said Gosselin. “And in the last two years we’ve seen a significant decline in the amount of food we take in.”

Ross Fraser of America’s Second Harvest said the cause of the declining food supply is multi-faceted.

“Donations are down slightly from the food industry because of increased efficiencies in the industry,” said Fraser. “The bigger decline is in the shrinking of USDA commodities given to our food banks.”

Gosselin hopes the new initiatives that bring together nutrition education, job training, food recovery and production gardening will prove to live up to the collective title “Recipe for Success.”

A new commercial kitchen constructed in the agency’s 18,000-square-foot facility will serve as the cornerstone of the Recipe for Success initiatives with the launch this month of an eight-week culinary training program designed to give in-need participants the skills they need to obtain secure positions in the restaurant and hospitality industry.

The free training opportunity will be taught by the professional chefs and instructors of Snapchef, a Boston-based hospitality training and staffing company.

Employment opportunities for the program graduates are not the only benefits of this new program, said Michelline Dufort, president of New Hampshire Lodging and Restaurant Association, a New Hampshire Food Bank partner. New Hampshire’s workforce and hospitality industry also will reap rewards.

“The New Hampshire Food Bank works diligently and valiantly on a daily basis to serve and aid the underprivileged; their new initiative to bring basic culinary training to their community brings those efforts to a higher level,” Dufort said. “By providing an opportunity for people to find future steady employment, and assisting the industry by providing skilled workers, the New Hampshire Food Bank has found yet another way to break the cycle of hunger.”

Newfound capability

The ripple effect resulting from the introduction of this new culinary program extends beyond job training and workforce enrichment.

“Because we now have the kitchen and a team of culinary students, we can begin to accept food we would otherwise not be able to take,” Gosselin said of the agency’s second new initiative, called Fresh Rescue. “In the past we’ve had to turn away fresh produce because we weren’t able to handle it or didn’t have enough storage space.”

Gosselin is optimistic that this newfound capability will allow the Food Bank to build new relationships and secure additional food sources.

The new kitchen also will become an additional venue for Operation Frontline, a Food Bank program that focuses on promoting financial literacy, cooking skills and good nutrition to individuals and families in need.

A new production garden located on the grounds of the Youth Development Center in Manchester and built in conjunction with UNH Cooperative Extension, the Division of Juvenile Justice Services and others in the community will be the final ingredient in Recipe for Success.

“The garden will allow us to grow specific to what we can use,” said Gosselin. “It will provide us with more fresh food for our culinary training program, cut down on transportation costs and allow us to develop a relationship with the YDC.”

For Gosselin and others at the Food Bank, the new programs growing out of these challenging times are a beginning of something much larger.

“Long term, my dream is that we will reach a point where we can create our own meals and get those meals out to other food banks,” said Gosselin. “We will be able to create our own revenue source. Self-sustainability — there’s huge potential here. We’re hopeful our past support will be here for these new initiatives.”

To learn more about Recipe for Success or how you can help the New Hampshire Food Bank visit www.nhfoodbank.org or call 603-669-9725.