What does it mean to deliver to rural communities on a rural route?
Besides the wild game of avoiding pot holes and frost heaves, making deliveries to rural neighbors means an increased value in human connection. Last month, Bree, Community Food Services Assistant and Merrilee (that's me!), the Community Food Services Coordinator got to take the cooler van for a spin during a particularly big delivery day.
This vehicle is new to us, but previously belonged to the Good Shepherd Food Bank, one of the PR Food Centers' key partners. We share the same mission as Good Shepherd Food Bank; to better help distribute healthy, local food to our communities. Having a vehicle that holds more food items to better assist with distribution of local food is really important, especially as some of our customers receive food from multiple sources that we facilitate.
Bree and I gathered our delivery route list and began packing the van. We were scheduled to deliver to our homebound seniors who receive Commodities Supplemental Food boxes, and dog food from the Furry Friends program through Eastern Area Agency on Aging, as well as fresh veggies from FarmShare for Homebound Seniors.
Though this wasn't the first time either of us had done deliveries, it was the first time I had ever driven a vehicle quite this large. As we trundled through Dover-Foxcroft, Guilford, Sangerville, Shirley, Monson and into Greenville, we did get some looks. The van is large and quite colorful, with the Good Shepherd logo playfully designed along the side. It prompted one of our customers to follow us outside in his scooter to inquire about the gas mileage and logo design.
Being able to accommodate multiple food sources for our customers is very important. It's both the obvious reason of meeting a very explicit need of sustenance and the implicit need of alleviating isolation.
Reflecting on the experience of delivering within the county Bree and I have both realized the true value in human connection. The customers we visited during this delivery day all have unique living arrangements and situations that make it really hard or impossible for them to leave their home. For some, our visits are sparks in an otherwise quieter social experience. For staff and volunteers at the PR Food Center, knowing this and integrating this knowledge means calculating the drive time and the "catch-up"/"connect" time. Delivering food is one way of expressing to these folks that their needs matter. Spending time conversationally, even if for just a few moments, to really check in, is another avenue to let these seniors know they matter. Sometimes the conversations revolve around the food items themselves- recipes, memories, and/or gratitude. Other times the connection is over the weather, or requesting help from a partnering organization.
Bree considers this portion of her job here at the PR Food Center similarly. "I always enjoy delivery days because it means I am able to connect faces to the seniors that I regularly call to take their orders. Not only is it an opportunity to see our customers, but also, to get to know them and their need for human contact. In some cases it is only on delivery days that the seniors are able to interact with others. It is also a great chance to experience who these people are, what their lives have been, and how important our program is to them."
Stay tuned for more stories on what it means to get food moving in Piscataquis County.