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  • Rebecca Flach

Helping Harvest – a hybrid approach to serving vulnerable people

Updated: Aug 3, 2022

Helping Harvest isn’t a food pantry, but we aren’t a traditional grocery store either. We’re a hybrid of the two. Here’s how we are like these other services and how we differ.

How is Helping Harvest like a traditional food pantry?

1. We serve low-income families. Generally speaking, our members are the working poor or senior citizens. Due to COVID-19 we’ve seen a surge of program use by the unemployed.

How does Helping Harvest differ from a food pantry?

1. We offer a greater selection of foods, including meats, dairy, frozen goods and some fresh produce.

2. We’re open more hours than the local food pantries, currently 24 hours a week.

3. Members can use the program as often as they like. They aren’t restricted to a number of visits a month or a particular day of the week.

4. We usually don’t have limits on products. Generally, our shoppers are able to take as much as they need.

5. Members make a donation for the food they take, generally 25 to 50 cents on the dollar. It’s these donations that help us pull off 1 through 4 above!

6. We track our users. New members of Helping Harvest are asked to fill out a short application where we gather information about why they need to use the program and details about their household. We use statistics from this data to apply for grants and for fundraising purposes.

7. Just as important as the savings we offer is the dignity Helping Harvest provides its shoppers. There will always be a need for a food pantry in every community, but many low-income families want to contribute to their well-being whenever possible. They just need a break from full retail prices, especially when their SNAP benefits for the month have been used. Helping Harvest members treat our program like a co-op just for them and know their donations pay the program forward for another family in need.

How is Helping Harvest like a traditional grocery store?

1. Helping Harvest members are able to use a shopping cart, just like any other grocery store, and shop our aisles to make their own selections. Once they are ready to “check out” our members make a donation of generally 25 to 50% of regular retail store prices. We use a cash register to check members out just like any grocery store.

2. We offer many of the same departments as a grocery store, including meat, dairy, dry goods, baked goods and frozen products.

How is Helping Harvest unlike the usual grocery store?

1. Helping Harvest is not open to the general public. It serves low-income families only and you must qualify to use the program.

2. While Helping Harvest is well-stocked, it doesn’t offer the vast product variety of a grocery store, nor does it generally offer different brands of the same food (Jiff vs. Peter Pan for example).

Helping Harvest’s model for food access is different than what many communities are used to, but it works in Ravena. Our food assistance program gives vulnerable people a break from regular retail prices, but offers more food options and longer hours of operation than the traditional food pantry. We know the model works because many members renew year after year.

If you’re struggling to make ends meet, or know a family who is, please stop by Helping Harvest and give us a test drive! Let’s see if our hybrid program can work for you.

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