Two-year-old Noah Wilcox and his mother, Amber, were all smiles when they stepped out of their Saranac Lake apartment to greet Tom Boothe, the board chairman of AdkAction. It was Thursday, which meant Tom was delivering an Emergency Food Package – one of 235 assembled that morning some 50 miles away at Hub on the Hill in Essex, NY, for distribution across three counties. Amber says the local, organic yogurt, apples, granola, carrots, greens, eggs, and other items inside have been a “godsend” this spring and summer for her family of five, which includes three growing boys ages two, seven, and 12 and their dad, who works for an auto parts supplier.
Since early April, over 40,000 of these food packages have been delivered to the doorsteps of people with limited income or experiencing economic hardship due to the state-mandated pause that left many without a job while everyone collectively focused on slowing the deadly spread of COVID-19. Recipients have been identified with the help of social service agencies and community action programs.
This new program being led by AdkAction, a project-based nonprofit with offices in Keeseville, is doing more than feeding people, it is also breaking down barriers – like transportation, convenience, affordability, and perception – that often conspire to keep locally grown or produced products and food assistance programs worlds apart. And, it has the potential to lead to lasting change.
Executive Director Brittany Christenson, with prior experience as a farmer and knowledge of food assistance programs, wasted no time at the onset of the pandemic to develop the concept and recruit partners in anticipation of increasing food insecurity. Grants from our Special and Urgent Needs Fund, as well as donor advised funds, provided key financial support and a major vote of confidence early in the process, and, later, we helped to secure and match additional grant dollars from other foundations.
Just when local farmers braced for breaks in their supply and distribution chains as bulk orders from restaurants, schools, and other wholesale buyers came to a halt in March, the food packages created a large enough, reliable market to help compensate for the losses. This was certainly the case for North Country Creamery in Keeseville, whose yogurt made from the milk of grass-fed cows has been in every box since the project launched.
Meanwhile, Hub on the Hill, which bills itself as a food hub with a social mission, was also gearing up for market disruptions related to the pandemic. The opportunity to continue to work with small farms and producers to assemble and distribute Emergency Food Packages fit perfectly with their penchant for collaboration and desire to expand access to nutritious food.
Volunteers are integral to the short-term success of this program, delivering packages door-to-door. Long-term success hinges on farmers, packagers, and drivers being paid fairly for their goods and services, as well as customers valuing the product. After soliciting feedback from recipients, AdkAction began taking steps toward a gradual transition from Emergency Food Packages to Farm Fresh Packages discounted with Fair Food Pricing to reduce the cost by up to 60% through various nutrition incentive subsidies. The small amount left to pay can be covered through Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, which also brings federal dollars into our region.
The Hub is on board with this transition; some of the grant funding helped them acquire card readers to accept SNAP payments. Amber is also on board, and already using her benefits to purchase a box every other week. She loves getting fresh, organic food that her family could not otherwise afford. Noah loves it, too – especially when there is kale inside.