WHEAT: community goodness
Giving back and being more present are common resolutions as December rolls into January. With all the pulls in varying directions of our lives, it can feel impossible to slice out a space for something else. Is there a way to find the time to give back?
After spending an afternoon at WHEAT Community Connections in Clinton, we say ABSOLUTELY! Because of WHEAT's accessibility, flexibility, and heartwarming spirit, this year's goals of giving back are 100% obtainable. Jodi Breidel, the North County Regional Director at WHEAT recently gave us an incredible education about the services they offer for the area and how easy it actually is to help out.
So what is it they do?
WHEAT Community Connections is a direct service of the United Way Tri-County Organization that looks at the whole picture of individuals in need and offers services that connect the dots of a struggling circumstance.
How it works: Families that are experiencing hardship can apply to be a part of the food pantry program that offers participants a week's worth of groceries, once a month. On their monthly visit, participants receive pre-packed bags of the basic foundations of a meal. Volunteers organize these bags in hallways that are meticulously lined with shelving stocked high with tuna, beans, soy milk, pasta and so much more. Complementing the prepared bags, participants get their picks of perishable items such as meat, fish, bread, eggs and produce from a makeshift market stocked daily. There are many food donors throughout the community, such as local supermarkets, while the foundational food source is the Worcester Food Bank. Generally, between 850-900 families are enrolled in the program throughout the year representing nearly 2,000 people in the service area. In 2017, over 340,000 pounds of food was provided to families!
How our donations can help directly: A percentage of food comes directly from donations and food drives held in local communities. School food drives, churches, and post offices collect food that gets delivered to the community cupboard and combined for choosing. Jodi suggests a great way for local families to help out: Donate surplus vegetables from family gardens during harvest time. It is that simple direct giving and receiving that can encourage folks to stop by with food donations. To know that the extra zucchini grown in your garden this summer can be cooked and appreciated in someone else's home the same day is very gratifying.
How it works: This charming cafe style area is open Monday thru Friday serving dinner for free. The menu is impressive to say the least. Jodi proudly reveals that several organizations in the community routinely take care of particular nights, and that amazingly in an average month there are only 5 or 6 nights that require alternate arrangements. The cafe serves an average of 40-60 visitors for dinner on any given night. A large percentage of of the diners are elderly, which in a way feels surprising. Jodi acknowledges that reaction, but explains that many seniors are alone and oftentimes don’t take advantage of food stamp programs, so a dinner out is a great opportunity for them.
How donations can help directly: Members of the community can sponsor an evening meal at the Community Cafe and the WHEAT office will organize and prepare the food. For around $200.00 an entire meal can be taken care of for the night! How often do people wonder what gifts buy for people who “have everything already?” Imagine putting those resources toward feeding over 40 people for dinner! A group of friends could pool together to fund the meal and then volunteer as a group to work that evening!
Hidden Treasures: A bustling thrift shop with staples (and much more) for those starting from scratch or others just looking for a find. WHEAT provides vouchers for the shop for families in need. Check out our full review of all things Hidden Treasures here.
How donations can help directly: With the proceeds going immediately back into the work that WHEAT does, both financially and providing affordable solid items for homes, it is the perfect place to donate your items knowing where the benefit will be felt.
Additional Services: Throughout the week, WHEAT provides additional services for the community. On Thursdays a representative from Mass Heath helps members navigate paperwork and apply for services. A Fuel Assistance program helps families in need with oil, gas or electric heating cost. Counselors from the YMCA spend time leading support groups for victims of domestic violence. There are even summer programs for children led by Cooking Matters where kids learn how to cook a particular meal, understand it’s nutritional value and take ingredients home to prepare it for their family.
The power of being a part of the work:
There is a sense of openness and belonging right from entering the big yellow doors of the office. Jodi exudes purpose and pleasure in serving the community. As we toured the facility she was open to so many questions, for it is clear: she knows that the more informed the community is, the more change can happen.
So what are the heavy concerns for the population in need in this area?
The rising housing costs, lack of transportation and underemployment. It is a cycle that makes it hard to keep up or get ahead. With the majority of families driving outside of the community for work, not having access to transportation puts one at a real disadvantage in employment opportunities. Many of the people who utilize the services offered at WHEAT are underemployed. “Minimum wage really can only get you so far,” Jodi explains, “having access to these services can really make a difference.” Another big concern is the elderly who are not being reached, “I think of all the work that is being done to reach so many people, but my worry is how do we know that some folks are not falling through the cracks.”
Jodi shared some inspiring insights about how we as community members can do more to care for one another. She says that each single act makes a difference, “there is always some way to contribute in a meaningful way.” She suggests to go to where people are helping and see what they are doing. “A lot of times people want to help but it is just knowing where to start.” Jodi acknowledges how busy life is, which is why volunteering at WHEAT is accessible so that if you want to get involved, you can do so in any capacity that works for you. Jodi encourages community members to connect with them for a two hour training session so that you can learn about the tasks that are needed to get done; then you can come when you are available to work. “Even if you can stop by for an hour and a half at the thrift store, it helps.”
“We would never be able to do what we do with just our staff alone. Our volunteers make this all happen.” Jodi beams. There are many wonderful fun programs that run throughout the year that raise money to help. Getting involved is fun, rewarding, and above all absolutely possible.