Willing Hands: The Numbers, The Spirit
One of the Upper Valley’s hottest tickets this fall was the opportunity to join a small group tour of Willing Hands on Church Street in Norwich, Vermont.
You’ve likely seen them en route. Willing Hands’ 4 trucks are on the road 358 days a year, picking up and delivering 1.2 million pounds of food annually to 90 recipient social service and other agencies within a 40 mile radius, sometimes weekly, and to the Haven, almost daily.
They are trying to end hunger.
Fresh off a successful capital campaign, improvements to Willing Hands’ physical plant now include a new barn (standing, but more work yet to do), with solar panels on its roof to generate the electricity that keeps the food stored properly and the lights on. There’s an office building and warehouse, an on-site garden, a greenhouse, and an enormous pile each of compost and donated wood chips. Fruit trees will be planted in the near future. It’s a far cry from its origins of almost twenty years ago, when one man, Peter Phippen, took it upon himself to rescue soon-to-be discarded food from the Hanover Co-op by loading it into his Honda Civic, and driving it to wherever it was needed.
Where does all of the produce, dairy, meat and bread come from? The Co-op Food Stores are still a mainstay supplier, as are local food producers, wholesalers and restaurants. (The day I was there, there were towering pallets of eggs from Pete and Gerry’s.) Many local farms are substantial contributors. The Grow-A-Row Program allows home gardeners to pitch in by planting, harvesting, and bringing their extra produce to Willing Hands; last year these gardeners donated 6,000 pounds of fruits and vegetables. Five gardens run by Willing Hands are tended by about 200 garden workers. That does not necessarily include other volunteers who pick berries and apples, and glean local farm fields for potatoes and other unharvested food. Can’t cook and want to learn? A volunteer effort offers occasional cooking classes, and recipes on the website.
It’s an impressive operation, ever-growing (see above) under the leadership of its Executive Director Gabe Zoerheide, with a staff of just over 11. During the tour, numbers (people, pounds, dollars) swirled throughout his presentation both in the hot sun and in the walk-in coolers. I tried to catch it all in my scribbled notes. Mostly though, I thought what a great place to call home, this Upper Valley, where so many (all told, seeming zillions?) volunteer to drive, load, unload, serve on the board, cook, wash, sort, pack, glean, sow, reap, water, and harvest in order to feed their neighbors.
Want to help? You can donate your money and/or your time by clicking here to access the Willing Hands website.
(Photos, top and center, courtesy of Willing Hands. Center graphic: Dana Dwinell-Yardley.)
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And in case you are wondering . . . Susan B. Apel shuttered a lifelong career as a law professor to continue an interest (since kindergarten) in writing. Her freelance business, The Next Word, includes literary and feature writing; her work has appeared in a variety of lit mags and other publications including Art New England, The Woven Tale Press, The Arts Fuse, and Persimmon Tree. She connects with her neighbors through Artful, her blog about arts and culture in the Upper Valley. She’s in love with the written word.