Welcome to the third in our series of “A Day in the Life” photo journals documenting the workdays of our staff, and the people we serve.
Jeff Raffensperger- Food Pantry Coordinator
CEO’s Community Resource Center, Troy NY
Jeff arrives at CEO’s Community Resource Center along with the Food Pantry Assistant, Shelby, and they begin to get the Food Pantry ready for the day. In the afternoons when the pantry closes, the staff head right home, so the hour in the morning before the pantry opens is important. It allows Jeff time to restock shelves, get ready for the day, review what’s low from the day before, and prepare the choice model sheet that helps clients choose their pantry items.
The Food Pantry is open Monday through Friday. Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays it’s open from 9am to 4:30pm, on Thursdays it stays open until 5:30pm, and on Tuesdays it closes at 3:00pm.
The Food Pantry is open for business, and today there aren’t any households waiting. “Some days when we open at 9:00 we have five or six households waiting,” says Jeff, “but today the weather is really cold and rainy. A lot of our clients take the bus or walk here, and weather like this means a quieter day.” Jeff has worked for CEO in the Food Pantry for a year and a half, and is knowledgeable in the ebbs and flows of the pantry. He knows the types of foods that frequently sit untouched longer, and those that are favorites. “Canned corn is a pantry favorite,” he says, “not so much Toasty O’s though.”
Jeff sees his first client of the day. The client is a single elderly individual, and Jeff helps with making choices across the model sheet. The choice model sheet is a balance of veggies & fruits, proteins, and grains. It’s based on the federal “My plate” standards and today the options range from canned goods like peas and applesauce, to fresh cantaloupe, carrots, and lettuce under the produce section. There are eggs, peanut butter, ground turkey, and more to choose from under the proteins, and cereal, bread, rice, pasta, and more under the grains. The Food Pantry can provide three meals per day for three days per household member, every two weeks.
Once the client makes his selections, Jeff heads back to the store room and puts together grocery bags for him to take home. Jeff and Shelby have 15 minute time slots allotted for client intake all day, but depending on how busy things are, they can move through intake faster or slower.
Jeff places his order with the food bank for the following week. CEO’s Food Pantry receives food from The Food Pantries of the Capital District once a week with funds from the New York State Department of Health’s Hunger Prevention & Nutrition Assistance Program Food Grant. The food is trucked over from the Regional Food Bank and unloaded by CEO’s Food Pantry staff. “It’s a big job,” says Jeff, “if we have volunteers to help us it can go by quickly, but if it’s just us coordinators, we have to close the pantry for a few hours while we unload.”
In addition to the food received from The Food Pantries of the Capital District, CEO also orders produce weekly from Capital Roots. Having fresh produce and a variety of foods to choose from for clients is important to the Food Pantry staff. “Capital Roots is great because they have good quality produce,” says Jeff.
Jeff sees a family for intake: a pregnant mother comes in with two kids. The father is at work, so that makes for a household of four. Pantry item totals are calculated based on the number of individuals in a household. The mother is just two weeks away from her due date. She came in to see about picking up diapers and some household items, but ends up getting the full package of produce, grains and proteins. Jeff helps her out to her car, remarking when he comes back that it’s nice when he can help someone in all those ways. “The Food Pantry is an important resource to this community.”
In addition to the produce, grains, and proteins available at the Food Pantry, CEO also tries to keep the store room stocked with diapers, formula, toiletries, household cleaning items, and pet food. With the exception of the pet food, these items are not grant funded, but are always in high demand. The Food Pantry gets some donations of diapers and the like from The Food Pantries of the Capital District, but CEO relies heavily on private donations and drives to keep the pantry stocked with these high demand and important items.
There is a Regional Food Bank grant for pet food, called Jazzy’s Place, which helps keep the store room stocked with pet food, but extra donations are always appreciated.
A volunteer arrives, and Jeff sets them up in the store room cleaning and organizing to keep things running smoothly the rest of the day. During the summer, the Food Pantry gets Rensselaer County Summer Youth Employment as part of a New York State program. The youth volunteers come in for about 20 hours per week. In April, the pantry sees fewer steady volunteers, but relies on a few dedicated individuals. Having volunteers is a huge help for the Food Pantry staff, especially in managing deliveries from the Regional Food Bank or Capital Roots.
The pantry closes down to clients for a half an hour, while Jeff and Shelby take their lunch break.
Jeff emails to coordinate with a representative at Bluecross Blue Shield who will be tabling in the waiting room for a future date. The Food Pantry frequently has tables set up in the waiting area with information on insurance options, healthy eating, and more.
In addition to offering information via tabling partnerships, Jeff also frequently prints off resources for clients on healthy eating, recipes to make at home, and more.
Jeff helps another client make their selections, and then bags up their produce, grains, and proteins. “Friday afternoons tend to be slow” Jeff says, “although it’s different in the summer versus the winter. When school is out more families face food insecurity. Suddenly those young kids are home all day and aren’t getting a free school lunch. During the summer we can see as many as 60-65 households come in each day. Yesterday we saw 45 households. When we’re seeing a higher volume of clients, the options right before we get a delivery can be thinner. There have been a rare few times in the past when we’ve gotten down to just a few products to choose from.”
“We generally see more during the end of the month when SNAP benefits may be running lower. For many this is supplementary, and we see some clients come in every month. It’s nice to get to know them a little bit, better understand their preferences, and make that ongoing connection.”
The Food Pantry is closed, and Jeff heads home for the day. He lives in the neighborhood, so he enjoys a short commute, and getting the chance to see clients he has helped while he’s out and about.
What do you like most about being a coordinator at the Food Pantry?
“I like the client interaction, and thinking about how the meals we provide benefit the families we serve. When a parent comes in with her child, and you realize that they are going to have food on the table because of us and the work we do, that feels good. Every job is difficult in its own way, but the work here is made so much better when you know that it’s making a difference in someone’s life.”
What would you want the community to know about the Food Pantry?
“The infant needs are strong, and those products (formula, diapers, etc.) are all donation based, not grant funded. On the scale of supplementary to emergency, when we see a client come in on the emergency end of that scale, it’s usually a mother with an infant. That experience must be terrifying for them. We get very low on those items too, especially right before we have a “Fill it Friday.” The pantry relies on those drives so much to keep the community stocked, and we’ve got a drive coming up on May 11th that we’d love to see support for.
We also have an exciting partnership happening this summer with The Food Pantries of the Capital Region and our Lansingburgh Head Start location. We’ll have “Gus the Produce Bus” visiting Wednesdays from 3pm to 4:30pm from July 11th through August 22nd. We will be connecting people with free produce and community resource information, and are really excited about offering this service in Lansingburgh during the summer.”