Catholic Charities Report
NH Food Bank Tackling Hunger Pains
By Paul McAvoy
Hunger in New Hampshire is nothing new, but finding new solutions to combat hunger is the ongoing work of the New Hampshire Food Bank and its local funders and partners. As a program of Catholic Charities New Hampshire and the only food bank in the state, the NH Food Bank supplies over 425 agencies throughout the state, including food pantries, soup kitchens and local feeding programs. Recently, when two funders came together with a desire to help Coos County, the NH Food Bank joined them and sprang into action.
“Harvard Pilgrim Health Care and North Country Healthcare wanted to focus on the North Country where there was high need,” said Nancy Mellitt, Director of Development for the NH Food Bank. “They wanted to be able to make an impact that would provide healthy choices for those who are food insecure.”
The NH Food Bank was able to use the funding from these organizations to set up mobile food pantries in towns like Groveton, Colebrook and Berlin. These one-time food drops provided fresh food, protein and dairy last winter at a time when many family budgets were stretched.
Additionally, the NH Food Bank used the funds to supplement a summer children’s feeding program in Coos County, and provided assistance to Granite State Market Match, which doubles SNAP benefits at the local farmers markets and a food co-op. Finally, the NH Food Bank helped four North Country agencies buy larger refrigerators to store more fresh food.
Coming from a farming background, Eileen Groll Liponis, Executive Director of the NH Food Bank, appreciates the importance of fresh food. “Our job is to feed the hunger and nourish the health of New Hampshire’s food insecure,” she said. “When the Food Bank is supplying more than half of the food our agencies distribute, that’s a huge responsibility. We should strive to source the most nutritious product possible, and hopefully the most local product possible. The closer it is from being picked to being eaten, the more nourishing it is.”
Eileen is working with local farmers to create initiatives like forward contracting work, which means entering into agreements to purchase a certain amount of farmers’ products at the beginning of the season. “When we create a forward contract with farmers, we also agree to accept their seconds,” she said, “things like apples with blemishes.” Eileen noted “there are lots of very nutritious, but not aesthetically perfect, products out there. We’re supporting local agriculture, getting fresh produce, leaving a low carbon footprint to get it, and it’s the most healthy and beneficial food for our food insecure.”
Preventative food pantries are another new approach that Feeding America and food banks nationally are developing. The NH Food Bank will be piloting the first preventative food pantry in partnership with Catholic Medical Center in Manchester. This program is based on a successful initiative started at Boston Medical Center. When people are seen at the hospital, they will be given a short screening for food insecurity. If they screen positively, a “prescription” is written for them to access the preventative food pantry. If the client has a condition like diabetes or hypertension that requires a special diet, the right kind of food is provided for them. Doctors, nutritionists and the food pantry all work with the client to encourage good dietary habits and address food insecurity.
The good news is preventative food pantries have a measurable impact on health outcomes. When people are better fed, they are healthier overall. “I think every hospital should have one,” Eileen said. “We’re very excited that CMC is going to be the first to open one in New Hampshire this summer.”
Clearly, such innovative work doesn’t happen on its own. Many people in the community are involved. “We absolutely see funders as our partners in this work,” Nancy Mellitt explained. “They’re open to new ideas, and with the current landscape and focus on nutrition and health, I think that people are very excited to know that they can help the food insecure in our state and really have an impact.”
Counting Our Blessings at the Mobile Food Pantry, Groveton
"We don't even know how to say thanks for an amazing blessing this is. With times rough, this could not have come at a better time. Me and my family thank you all for such great work, and such a positive attitude. You all made us feel wanted and loved and not a failure. You all again are a blessing. Thank you so much for an opportunity to not feel so stressed and worried about our next meal. Much love, the Hill family, Riendeau family and Welch family."