NATICK – On a snowy Monday morning, individuals from the Natick Service Council, volunteers, and Roche Bros. employees were hard at work installing shelves and stocking non-perishable food items at the Vi Tutuny Food Pantry.
The Vi Tutuny Food Pantry has been open for more than 50 years, including eight years at its current location.
The Natick Service Council currently provides services to over 700 households in Natick.
However, with the size of the current pantry, only 200 households are able to shop for food at Vi Tutuny monthly.
With the expansion project underway, the Natick Service Council hopes to triple the size of the pantry and double the amount of households served monthly.
“We have decided to expand the space to be able to benefit more families and have them shop through it on their own. So, families will be able to take a shopping cart and shop through the shelves, take what they want, which will make definitely a better experience overall for families who are shopping, it’s a little bit more dignified,” said Kelsey Hampton, Director of Food Pantry and Volunteer Services.
Part of the expansion includes the installation of new shelving and the re-work of product placement. Employees from Roche Bros. supplied shelving and other such items for the pantry from their recently closed Burlington location. They also regularly donate food to the pantry through Lovin’ Spoonfuls.
“Roche Brothers has been an amazing resource for us in terms of not only donating the shelves and the time to come in and set them up, which is huge,” Hampton said, “but also just being a great sounding board in terms of where we should put product, when product comes in the door as a donation, what’s the best way to set it up so that it can go right back out the door to the community and those in need?”
In just two and a half hours on the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday Monday, the Roche Bros. employees had set up a significant amount of shelving, for which the Natick Service Council was extremely grateful. Such a task would have taken hundreds of volunteer hours to coordinate and execute.
New shelves were installed and placed closer together than they had been in the past. Hampton pointed out that this would allow for more product to be put in the pantry rather than in storage. She believes this will help to keep everything better organized.
“It will allow us to keep on top of our expiration dates better and rotate through the product as quickly as possible,” Hampton said, “So we’re able to manage the inventory better and then we can evaluate if we can be giving more to people in the community.”
Clients will be able to better see all of the food options available to them. The food pantry is heart-healthy, meaning they offer a heart-healthy alternative to every item in stock. They also provide items for any dietary restrictions and allergies people may have, including gluten-free options.
This new system will also allow food to rotate more quickly through the pantry. Right now, the current system for food donations has five steps: it comes in as a donation, the expiration date is checked, a volunteer stocks it on the shelves, it is placed in the shelving area, and then it goes out the door. This is a process that, according to Hampton, could take up to two weeks.
However, after the expansion project is complete, the process will be much shorter.
“Now, it’s going to come in and go right on the shelf. So we’re going to have faster turnover, which we’re really excited about too, because it doesn’t do us any good sitting on the shelves. We want it to get out to the people who need it,” Hampton said.
The other piece of the expansion is the addition of a second entrance to the food pantry. Before, there was only one entrance.
The parking lot is located in the back of the building, and clients have to walk from the back all the way along the side of the building, down the stairs, and then into the food pantry. However, with the addition of a back entrance, clients will be able to enter the pantry directly from the parking lot.
This will especially benefit clients at nighttime and on days with poor weather.
With all of the changes that are happening, volunteers will be going through training to get used to the new system once the expansion is complete. The Natick Service Council currently has 12 staff members and the rest of individuals working at The Food Pantry are volunteers.
“We have a staff of 12 and the rest is volunteers, we rely a lot on our volunteers to stock the food pantry, to manage the inventory of the donations, and to assist families who come in to shop, as well,” Hampton said.
The expansion of the food pantry is expected to be complete in early February.
“We’re reducing any potential waste and the food’s going to go to people who need it.”