There are programs in many New Hampshire communities for those in need, but it’s not always easy for people to get to where those services are available.
That’s exactly the problem the new director of the Nashua Soup Kitchen & Shelter is trying to tackle.
Michael Reinke took over at the nonprofit last month. He’s hoping to find ways to get meals out to people in the area who can't get to the soup kitchen itself.
He spoke with NHPR’s Morning Edition.
How do you think the city is doing as whole in addressing the issue of food insecurity?
Comparatively speaking, we’ve been doing really well. One of the fantastic things about the Nashua Soup Kitchen & Shelter is we do have a food pantry that’s serving as many as 100 families on any given day, or 500 families a week. That’s huge. We’re really getting out there. And we have a great relationship with our local grocery stores, whether it’s Hannaford, Target, Trader Joe’s, Walmart, or Whole Foods, we have a truck that’s going around and getting the surplus food that they can’t sell, bringing it here, and we’re able to give it away to families that are food insecure. So we have a good supply chain, we have a good process, we’re getting people food.
Our problem is really a logistic problem. How do we get food into communities where people don’t have access to reliable transportation? Maybe they have some mobility issues. If you look at the different neighborhoods in Nashua, whether that’s French Hill, Crown Hill, or the Tree Streets, you’ll find convenience stores just about every other block. But if you go into that convenience store, they’re looking for things that have long shelf life. So they’re selling chips, they’re selling candy, they’re selling beer, cigarettes, and lottery tickets. If you want a yogurt, you’re going to have to look far and wide to get that yogurt.
You’ve talked about wanting to bring the organization’s services out to people around the community instead of having to get to the soup kitchen. What kinds of changes do you have in mind?
I’m thinking about how we develop partnerships; maybe it’s with that convenience store, maybe it’s with a church in the area, maybe it’s with some place that’s always open, maybe a fire station. If we were to partner with our supply chain to bring fresh produce to this area maybe to do pre-packaged meals and put it in one of those slide-top refrigerator freezers that you got ice cream out of when you were a kid, and locate that in the fire station, in the church, in the convenience store. A family could then come along who can’t make it all the way to Shaw’s or Hannaford or Market Basket, but right here in my neighborhood, there’s a place where I can make sure I get fresh fruits and vegetables, where I can purchase a prepared meal that’s healthy, low in sodium, low in sugar, and tastes good for myself and my family. That’s how we can increase access to good, healthy food and make sure the health problems that are related to not having enough to eat, we can bring those costs down, and make sure kids are healthy when they go to school.
How do you strike a balance with the shop owner, who needs to make a profit, in order to do this and offer you the space? And how do you offer the logistics on your end when it comes to more time and staff?
It’s going to have to be a partnership. We can’t just do it on our own. We’re going to need to develop partnerships with people like Meals on Wheels, or like E86, which is an organization that’s trying to make sure kids have food to get through the weekend. So we need partnerships with organizations like those with the food pantries around town. It’s going to be hard for any one organization, it’s going to be hard for the Nashua Soup Kitchen & Shelter to be able to solve the big, hairy, audacious problem by ourselves. But I believe if we partner with these organizations, partner with the mayor; I mean, just about everybody believes that kids should have enough food to eat. And if we call come together, I believe there are resources in our community to be able to solve this problem.
Do you have a model that you’ve seen elsewhere in the country that you’d want to replicate here?
There’s an organization down in North Carolina called Food Runners that actually has a mobile truck, like a food truck, that will go out to different neighborhoods and will say any kind in the neighborhood can come out and get a meal tonight and maybe even take a meal home for tomorrow night. So maybe we want to take that model and bring a food truck to French Hill, Crown Hill, the Tree Streets, and other areas where we know there are kids who don’t have enough to eat…and kids know they can go there and make sure they’re going to have a meal for that evening.