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Willing Hands Creates Virtual Fundraiser To Help Deliver More Food To The Upper Valley

Dec 15, 2020 01:21PM ● By Virginia Dean
Founded in 2004 by Peter Phippen, an employee of the Hanover Co-op Food Store, Willing Hands is a non-profit headquartered in Norwich, VT, that has developed an efficient system for food recovery and distribution. According to Executive Director Gabe Zoerheide, the organization arranges for regular pick-ups with over 40 food donors and delivers to at least 58 local groups every week, all year. In 2019, for example, Willing Hands delivered approximately 266 tons of food to its neighbors in need and 93 percent of that was fruit and vegetables. The organization serves people in need of all ages throughout the Upper Valley, offers nutrition education, and provides an opportunity for community members to work together to share the abundance of food available in the region.

Q: How would you describe Willing Hands and how does it help the local community?

WH: Willing Hands recovers healthy food that would otherwise go to waste and delivers it to 81 local partner organizations serving our neighbors in need. We acquire food in three ways: donations from farms and grocery stores; gleaning at local farms; growing fresh vegetables in our four gardens. It is then distributed six days a week to food shelves, community meals, and shelters in the Upper Valley. This year, when nearly 1 in 3 Vermonters have experienced food insecurity, Willing Hands has delivered over 750,000 pounds of nutritious food to meet the increased demand. 


Q: You have a virtual fundraiser coming up. When is it and what does it entail?

WH: We are currently in the midst of a Capital Campaign. This year we grew by over 50 percent to respond to our community's increased need for healthy food. Now, our goal is to sustain this impact by growing our storage capacity, improving food quality, increasing staffing, and making our operation more environmentally friendly.


Q: How can people get involved in both the fundraiser and Willing Hands?

WH: Our volunteer community is an integral part of Willing Hands. Every week during the harvest season, dozens of volunteers help tend the gardens, glean produce, and pick up food from grocery stores. The pandemic has forced us to scale back volunteer events this winter, but anyone can sign up on our website to be notified of new opportunities that arise, including one for the spring of 2021. We encourage anyone with a green thumb or an interest in our local food system to join the Grow-a-Row program. This year, 144 home gardeners planted extra veggies in their gardens and then donated the harvest at our Norwich location. In total, local families contributed more than 6,300 pounds of food (including produce, eggs, and meat) which was then directly distributed to our 81 recipient organizations. Consider including Grow-a-Row in your spring seed planning!


Q: How has Willing Hands been impacted by the Pandemic and what does the future hold for the non-profit?

WH: With demand growing at local food shelves and community organizations as a result of the pandemic, we greatly expanded our reach this year. We added 20 new recipient organizations, rented an additional truck to pick up and deliver more food, and packed food boxes for the USDA Farmers to Families program. We are looking forward to continuing to serve the Upper Valley using our increased infrastructure made possible by the Capital Campaign.


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