Stepping Up: Hope & Main starting new program to help feed seniors, needy families

CHEF ROSA Muñoz, who works for Hope & Main member entity Savory Fare, prepares a meal in one of Hope & Main's kitchens. Hope & Main is launching next week its new Nourishing Our Neighbors program to provide free meals to seniors and needy families on the East Bay during the COVID-19 pandemic. / COURTESY RUPERT WHITELEY
CHEF ROSA Muñoz, who works for Hope & Main member entity Savory Fare, prepares a meal in one of Hope & Main's kitchens. Hope & Main is launching next week its new Nourishing Our Neighbors program to provide free meals to seniors and needy families on the East Bay during the COVID-19 pandemic. / COURTESY RUPERT WHITELEY

WARREN – When schools in the Bristol-Warren School District closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Hope & Main Founder and President Lisa Raiola knew what was ahead for the community.

The food-distribution nonprofit was already providing free-and-reduced meals to a school district that has 1 out of every 3 students coming from low-income families, Raiola said, and was already considering ramping up its assistance to students. But as restaurants and other local business operations were forced to close temporarily to limit the virus spread, the need for meals increased dramatically.

“After a couple of weeks, we saw that the numbers were doubling every day for families were in need of these meals,” Raiola told Providence Business News. “Frankly, what the schools are able to provide right now are cold meals – sandwiches and that kind of thing.”

In order to help needy families have balanced meals during this crisis, and seeing that growing need, Hope & Main announced Tuesday it will launch next week its Nourish Our Neighbors food-access program.

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Starting April 7, family meals will be available for pickup on Tuesday and Friday mornings from 8-11 a.m. at Hope & Main, 691 Main St., in concert with the existing school lunch program.

The program will also deliver food packages to the Warren and Barrington senior centers, and the Bristol-based Benjamin Church Senior Center on Fridays, to be distributed to the East Bay’s elderly population so they can have a “prepared meal” on weekends, Raiola said.

“Those folks are shut in and quarantined, and we really worry about their nutrition, health and food insecurity at this time,” Raiola said.

Normally at Hope & Main, the 18,000 square-foot facility with four kitchens helps businesses launch and scale. Raiola said the nonprofit helped launch about 250 food businesses in five years, selling their goods to restaurants and grocery stores. But Raiola said when the pandemic hit, those food businesses formed at Hope & Main had to either discontinue or “pivot” in order to reach consumers in a different way.

So, Hope & Main looked at how the kitchens could still be utilized and also support the school district’s efforts, hence the creation of Nourish Our Neighbors, Raiola said.

“This is a perfect match to press our member companies into service to make food for these families that could be facing food insecurity over the next two months during this crisis,” Raiola said. “It just made a lot of sense that we can be helpful during this very challenging time. If you have a municipal solution that can help offload the pressure there, that’s what we can do.”

Hope & Main is going to scale up to producing 300 family meals and 150 senior meals per week in order to meet the community’s hunger need, Raiola said. She also noted about half a dozen Hope & Main member food-service entities will help prepare meals for this initiative.

One challenge Hope & Main is facing is getting food supplied to the organization in order to meet the increasing demand because those suppliers have discontinued due to the pandemic. Raiola said Hope & Main is working with local suppliers still “provisioning,” such as Farm Fresh Rhode Island and Providence-based WhatsGood in order get the necessary food to make the meals.

Raiola said this crisis has highlighted the need for a “resilient local food system” because it’s something that consumers would “like to support.”

“We’re trying to, overnight, pivot so that we can keep the local food system going,” Raiola said.

Hope & Main is also seeking any food or financial assistance with this program, as well. Raiola said those willing to contribute food resources can either visit Hope & Main’s website, send the organization an email or call the main line at (401) 245-7400.

The organization is also aiming to raise $36,000 Wednesday during the United Way of Rhode Island’s 401Gives Day initiative to support the Nourish Our Neighbors program.

Providence Business News is spotlighting nonprofits, companies and workers stepping up to challenges presented by the spread of the new coronavirus.

James Bessette is the PBN special projects editor, and also covers the nonprofit and education sectors. You may reach him at Bessette@PBN.com. You may also follow him on Twitter at @James_Bessette.

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