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Families In Need Find Haven For Food

This time of year, charitable pantries have a hard time meeting the need of families who cannot afford to buy food. But certain donations are clearly more useful than others. Some customers get handed a box of canned goods they would never have chosen for themselves, and may not know how to prepare. 

But not at the Haven Food Shelf in White River Junction. There, customers get personal shoppers who roll their cart through well lit aisles with products attractively displayed in a way that encourages them to choose healthy items.

About a week before Thanksgiving, Elizabeth Oakes, of Hartland, left the Haven with a happy young son and a cart full of foods she knows her family will enjoy—and need.

“There was leaf lettuce today, which was a favorite, clementines, canned beans, and Arlen got a stuffed animal,” she said.

Oakes says all that will come in handy, since her husband’s landscaping business isn’t as lucrative as it used to be.

“People are just not spending what they used to so we are not making what we used to so places like the Haven really help,” she said.

But there aren’t many places quite like this one. The Haven looks kind of like a high end supermarket.

Coordinator Lori Lounsbury, a former buyer for Kraft Foods, wants people make the healthiest, most sensible choices. Marshmallow Fluff, for example, is kind of hard to find, on a bottom shelf. But there are one pound bags of white rice and two-pound bags of brown, right at eye level.

“That’s being done on purpose because we want them to take the larger bag because its healthier and its actually one of the ways my volunteers steer people toward the healthier item,” Lounsbury explained.

The most popular aisle, Lounsbury says, is coffee—all donated by Green Mountain. No decaf, because she’s learned it just sits on the shelf. At the Haven, people are not questioned about why they need food assistance, but  volunteers who shop with them do ask questions designed to make sure nothing goes to waste once it gets home.

“We don’t say ‘you can have one of these, two of these, three of these,’ we use the words,  ‘Do you need, could you use, would your family like?’ and by doing that, it has the customer think about ‘what do I have on my shelf, what will my family actually eat, and no I am not going to take it if they’re not going to eat it.’

The Haven even offers cooking classes for less popular items—like kidney beans-- that might need some instructions.  Over 3,000  households  fill their carts here  every year, and the need is growing. In the wake of cuts to the Food Stamp Program, the demand for food this October was 10 per cent higher than last October’s. And to make sure that donors drop off nutritious foods that are likely to be taken,  the Haven’s website has a wish list of items that are in short supply--including, this month,  turkey and all the trimmings.

Charlotte Albright lives in Lyndonville and currently works in the Office of Communication at Dartmouth College. She was a VPR reporter from 2012 - 2015, covering the Upper Valley and the Northeast Kingdom. Prior to that she freelanced for VPR for several years.
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