I’d like to share a bit of a story. This story is from an Americorps VISTA perspective, about what I remember as concepts to what I see now, in full operation at the Piscataquis Regional Food Center. I started working with Erin in the spring of 2016 as her first Americorps VISTA for Piscataquis Healthy Food For All. I am amazed to see the current large strides she and her team and the community have made with Piscataquis Regional Food Center, which started out as small steps.
During my VISTA year the focus was on FarmShare for Homebound Seniors (then just a pilot project!), increasing the number of Summer Meal sites in our county, assisting the clients of our local food cupboards in getting the food choices they needed, as well as expanding the scope of hunger awareness/volunteerism and linking as many community-neighbor connections as possible. From what I see, the progress made on these goals and more has grown exponentially.
Erin and I started with FarmShare for Homebound Seniors by making a flyer- the very basic beginning! We knew we had the funds, but had to find the people. And we knew they were out there. Erin and I did much of the deliveries from farms to the seniors ourselves. We took phone orders or met people in person, packed the food and delivered to a handful of folks in Dover, Guilford, Milo and Brownville. Bit by bit we were able to secure another handful of volunteers and other handfuls of homebound seniors, and gradually community awareness of the program spread, our connections with the farms providing the produce grew, and our conversations with HomeBound Seniors continued.
When we tackled Summer Meals, we started very small and utilized the existing resources and links to people already involved in those programs as a model. At the time, Summer Meals had gone dormant in Milo. Though we built up an amazing crew of volunteers and attendees, it took some time to promote and rejuvenate the program. When we realized there was great need in Derby it was with the small steps of town managers, community members and help from SeDoMoCha that we were able to offer the first of many Summer Meals at the Community Hall building. Summer Meals continued to grow in Dover at SeDo and the YMCA and support grew in Guilford and a site was born in Greenville. While we learned of mobile food deliveries and mobile Summer Meal sites, dreams of having a van or two here in Piscataquis county emerged.
I can remember first meeting Amy, and hearing about Spice Drive as a concept and important intention. Sometimes CeCe would join us, and with gusto the idea of CeCe’s corner came to the surface. Many meetings and coffee/teas later, Spice Drive was in full swing, and CeCe’s corner was still a real mission. While we spent time offering Spice of the Month samples at the food cupboard, we wondered about having kitchen tools and small appliances available along with food during distributions. Even though it was a goal we had yet to see manifest, it continued to be a part of our discussions and stayed in the forefront as a possibility.
Sometimes Erin and I would have “walking meetings”. Our office was still at the YMCA, so we would often walk the ATV trails behind it. A time or two we passed the Agway Building and thought “What if that was used as…? Wouldn’t it be great if…?”. Then one day Erin shared the concept of the Piscataquis Regional Food Center that she and Steve cooked up. And as I left town after ushering in the next lovely VISTA Haley, talk was of perhaps having new offices though nothing was assured yet and many little steps had to be taken.
A few weeks ago, I visited Erin, Steve, Amy and Theresa at the Piscataquis Regional Food Center. I was, and still am, in awe. The Piscataquis Regional Food Center is a living, breathing entity. It now houses the flourishing projects that we started as concepts. It has given literal and figurative room for advancements that at one point were just pieces in conversation and goals of the future. I can’t believe (but I can, because this is the kind of place where ideas become reality) that now, part of the food cupboard drive actually includes a drive for kitchen gadgets.
There is a beautiful website where folks can sign up electronically for FarmShare for Homebound Seniors (in addition to phone intake), see the locations of Free Summer Meals and/or sign up to volunteer. Cece’s Corner is real and she has space to share her perspective on healthy living and food exploration. Learning how to conduct training in SNAP benefits and sign up is happening, which was not the case when I started. Amy is now involved as Project Assistant and continues to be the Queen of the Spice Drive. Whitney, our dietician at the Mayo Regional Hospital posts regularly about healthy tips, a hope we had when we needed to find out how to increase involvement with nutrition from the hospital to the food cupboard and community at large. There is a cooler van now, previously just a wish to have a mobile means of storing, delivering and receiving farm produce and healthy food choices. And now there is a blog!
It’s with gratitude and pride that I share this story of great strides made from small steps. One of the lessons I learned while working with Erin-and by extension an incredibly giving and persistent community-is the great importance of meaningful connections, especially when working on an issue like hunger that can be hard to see at first. Patience and perseverance too, are gifts that act as the momentum to put one individual/collective step in front of the other. Bit by bit, piece by piece, and, before you know it, concepts become reality and awareness and action grow. I look forward to seeing the continued progress and deep community engagement the Piscataquis Regional Food Center has to offer.