Today marks one year since I joined the Flint Hills Breadbasket as the Executive Director. To say that it has been a full and rewarding year would be a huge understatement. In that time, I have been continuously touched by our community's generous spirit. It's hard to encompass a full year in one post, but I will give it a shot.
We welcomed 51 households this morning, and I expect we will host close to that number again during our evening hours. A "normal" market day for us looks like somewhere between 45 and 65 households in a two and a half hour window. Guests are able to select shelf stable foods, meat, fresh produce and dairy, and hygiene items (including menstrual products) each time they visit. We operate as a guest choice service, where our guests are able to select the items that their family will use during the course of one week. Our guests may also elect to visit one our our church partners, where they will have access to milk, eggs, shelf stable foods, and meat that we provide to them, as well as any other items that particular location has elected to offer.
It is our goal that anyone experiencing food insecurity in our service area have access to foods and basic care items. Our emphasis is on the word "anyone". In the last year, we have made special efforts to increase access to underserved populations. Our documents are now available in both English and Spanish, and we happy to say that we have one staff member (soon to be two) who are bilingual. That's in addition to my own Spanish skills which had been put on a shelf right after college. We have welcomed families from Afghanistan and made efforts to learn what foods are Halal or otherwise fit their needs and desires.
Expanding access to food for people from various countries and cultures also benefits families who were born and raised right here in Manhattan. Fresh and whole ingredient foods are highly desired across all nutritional needs and taste preferences. Our efforts to offer culturally relevant foods has taken our focus to the basics of cooking. That means we are doing our best to solicit, source, and offer foods that can be used to make a variety of dishes. Things like white rice, dry/canned beans, healthy grains and pasta, flour, sugar, cooking oil, and of course fresh fruits, vegetables, dairy, and protein are all popular, as are the spices that take each dish from cupboard to table. Of course, we will always need other common staples and crowd favorites like peanut butter & jelly, soups, cereal and oatmeal, and the occasional treat. But the focus is on the foods that are essential to offering a healthy, sustaining diet.
Across the hall from The Market is our hygiene room (I'm still working through finding the best name- hit me up with your clear but clever ideas). Many people are unaware that SNAP benefits cannot be used for non-food items like toilet paper, menstrual products, shampoo, or soap. These basic personal care items are important to all of us- they are good for our physical wellness, but perhaps more important is what they do for our dignity and overall sense of wellbeing. Knowing this, FHBB applied for and was awarded a grant to purchase and distribute menstrual products to our guests, beginning in October. We expanded that resource in January to include many other household and personal care items. We now offer toilet paper, dental products, deodorant, laundry detergent, soap/body wash, and many other items as they are available. This new offering has been incredibly well received.
I'm running out of time before our evening hours, so I'll have to save the rest for later, but not before I express my appreciation. I can't fully express my gratitude to all of the people who have made this year wonderful. Internally, I appreciate each and every volunteer who gives their time and energy to our mission. Many have been with us for the long haul, but we have also added new faces over the year. Opportunities to volunteer have grown with us and we love the community that is being built visit by visit. Our church partners- the coordinators, their volunteers, and the congregations- have been nothing short of wonderful as we have navigated the change in leadership and all that comes with it. The directors and staff at local social service agencies have been willing partners as we find ways to collaborate to better serve people in our community. And of course, I am incredibly grateful for supporters like each of you. You have watched our journey and come alongside us on it.
In sum, this year has been about building community. The energy here every day is real as guests, staff, and volunteers share in common joys and concerns. The Flint Hills Breadbasket is a special place, and I am blessed every day that I am able to lead us.