Food for Free Provides Access to Abundance

It’s easy to get wrapped up in our culture’s current obsession with food and forget that many people in our community still go hungry. While most of us can go to the local farmers market or hot new restaurant when we want something to eat, many others cannot. But one Cambridge nonprofit is working diligently to bridge that disconnect.

Food for Free, founded in 1981, rescues fresh food that would otherwise go to waste and distributes it to the local emergency food system. Food for Free picks up fresh food from local retailers like Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s as well as Boston Organics and local farmers markets. The food is then delivered to more than 80 organizations in Boston, Cambridge, Somerville, Chelsea, Medford and Peabody serving the hungry.

“There’s a tension between building our local food system and food access,” said Sasha Purpura, Food for Free’s executive director. “The issue with hunger is lack of access to healthy food.”

Many emergency food assistance programs rely on shelf-stable items, but Food for Free focuses on providing fresh food to the hungry. Seventy-percent of the food delivered by the organization is fresh produce.

Started by a group of Cambridge residents more than three decades ago, Food for Free has expanded greatly since its inception. In addition to the food rescue program, the group delivers fresh food directly to people in their homes, grows organic produce on a farm that gets funneled into the program and provides transportation assistance in partnership with the Greater Boston Food Bank.

“There’s this community aspect,” Purpura said. “People see our trucks everywhere. Some people on staff use emergency food assistance and they want to contribute.”

Foor for Free Mudflat StudiosImage courtesy of Mudflat Studios, which recently hosted Food for Free’s Empty Bowls fundraiser.

Last year, Food for Free donated more than 1,000,000 pounds of food through its food rescue program. And with the help of Boston Organics, Food for Free was able to add more home deliveries to physically and mentally disabled community members who live independently but cannot easily go shopping.

“It really has made a difference in a lot of these people’s lives,” Purpura said.

And with the weather growing warmer, Food for Free will soon be working on its organic vegetable plot at Lindentree Farm in Lincoln. The farm’s owner donates a quarter-acre of land, seedlings and tools to Food for Free, which staffs volunteers to grow produce that goes right into its delivery program. Anyone interested in volunteering at the farm, which is currently staffing for the summer, can find out more on the Food for Free website.

Food for Free works throughout the local community to provide food assistance, teaming up with businesses like Metro Pedal Power, which picks up food from area farmers markets, and Mudflat Studios, which recently hosted a fundraiser for the group.

Mudflat potters made more than 500 bowls for Food for Free, which were sold for $15 each and filled with soup at the Empty Bowls event. The organization exceeded its goals by 30%, selling more than 400 bowls.

“It was such a nice fit by bringing Cambridge and Somerville together” Purpura said of having Empty Bowls at the East Somerville studio. “We were surprised by the turnout. It was a nice event that brought the community in and made it accessible.”

Over the years Food for Free has been nurtured by hundreds of volunteers and board members like Anne Cushman, who has spent her career doing marketing and public relations for restaurants. After getting involved in the local nonprofit food world in the 1990s, she knew she wanted to do more.

“It’s hard to imagine there is still hunger in this country,” Cushman said. “We really need to focus on hunger here. It makes all the difference. There’s a lot of emphasis on hunger around the world and I’m a big believer of focusing locally.”

Food for Free Soup Line Image courtesy of Mudflat Studios, which recently hosted Food for Free’s Empty Bowls fundraiser.

For anyone else who wants to focus their efforts locally, Food for Free has several opportunities for getting involved.

“Get on our email list and come to our events,” Purpura said. “We want to engage the community.”

Food for Free’s annual fundraiser, Party Under the Harvest Moon, is coming up in October and will feature lots of excellent food, beer and wine. The organization is always looking for local restaurants to supply meals for the event or donate gift certificates.

“The Harvest Moon party is unlike any other,” Cushman said. “It reflects who Food for Free is. People are very engaged when they get there.”

Also coming up this fall is the Ride for Food, a 12-, 25- or 50-mile bike ride to raise money for the organization. Food for Free is looking for riders to participate in an event that’s both fun and educational.

“It’s a great way to draw attention to food issues,” Purpura said. “And Cambridge and Somerville are such bike cities.”

Food for Free’s efforts at making fresh food more accessible are evident throughout the community–from schools and food pantries to meal programs and shelters.

“Kids can’t learn without food. People can’t thrive without healthy food,” Cushman said. “It’s important to do what you can to support the effort locally.”

P.S. This is part of Upward Facing Somerville, an ongoing series highlighting local nonprofits and ways to get involved in their efforts.

Images of Food for Free’s Empty Bowls benefit courtesy of Mudflat Studios.

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