Local families in need were again able to come to the Arlington Community Food Bank to receive food for their Thanksgiving dinner with an expanded program this year.
“Instead of one day, we started holiday shopping on Nov. 18 and are providing them five different days they can shop,” said Carla Gastineau, executive director of the Arlington Community Food Bank.
The first day open for Thanksgiving dinners was Nov. 18, which was a Monday. Gastineau said Mondays usually bring in 30 to 35 people but 78 people came out for the first night.
“So it was really crazy. Wednesdays are generally bigger family nights so we’re expecting around 120 families tonight,” said Gastineau.
Clients can come twice a month to receive meals at the food bank. “My goal is that clients get what they get every month, plus a holiday meal,” said Gastineau.
The holiday meal often includes a turkey, although other meal options are available. Clients also receive classic Thanksgiving food items.
“Normally a family unit of 1 to 2 people leaves with 85 pounds of food, but with the holiday service they’re leaving with about 150 pounds of food,” said Gastineau.
Volunteers said they enjoyed helping their community.
“It’s the sense of giving back and serving the community that is important to me,” said food bank volunteer Susan Summers.
They said that they enjoy working with the clients who come in.
“I just love to help people and see people come in. I’m the person who cries because of my empathy,” said volunteer Christie Kurtz. “I just like to see the families come in with their kids and smile with what they get."
Food bank clients will also be experiencing a new way to shop through the shelves of the organization this year, as Gastineau said she has adopted the ‘full-client shopping model’ of food banks.
“It used to be when people came to the food bank they got food boxed up by the volunteers and they could point to a couple of produce items and a couple of boxed goods and it was given to them,” said Gastineau.
“When I go to the store, when you go to the store, we get to touch and grab our own things,” she said.
Gastineau was hired earlier this year as the food bank’s first executive director and she began to investigate other food bank models.
“I was lucky enough to get a grant,” to build cabinets and transition to a new model for the organization, which they have been using since late July.
They are continuing with the new program even with the additional items required for the holiday dinners.
“I decided we would stock the shelves with holiday items like they do at the stores,” said Gastineau. “It’s a big push still to get those holiday items."
She added that the model helps clients feel more dignity through the process.
“They feel empowered and they’re shopping for themselves. They get what they want and they don’t get stuff they don’t want,” said Gastineau.
When Gastineau started at the food bank people just left the food they didn’t want in the parking lot, or traded with other clients.
“We don’t want to give out food people aren’t going to eat,” she said.
The only pushback about the new system is from volunteers who have to do more set-up and stocking work now, but Gastineau said they have bought into the new model now.