Back in the 1990s, I had the good fortune to work as Chief Operations Officer for Vermont Foodbank, the largest anti-hunger organization in the state. Vermont Foodbank stocks more than 280 food shelves, meal sites, shelters, senior centers, and after-school programs across Vermont. I learned a lot during my tenure there, particularly when it comes to the complexity of food insecurity and the importance of dignity and choice in our food system.
The experience made me a passionate advocate for food access, choice, education, and information. Whether a consumer visits a food shelf, a small market, or a large grocery store, his or her experience should be based on individual dignity and choice. One of our Vermont Foodbank clients taught me this lesson in a powerful and inspiring way—all over a birthday cake.
It was a typical day. The client came in to the food shelf as usual. She was a regular, a busy working mom with a full plate of responsibilities. After shopping for the standard healthy staples — produce, milk, meat, bread, and so on — she saw a birthday cake. Then she started to cry.
I approached her to see if everything was okay. She told me that her son’s eighth birthday was coming up, and he had never had a birthday cake in his life. But she could take one home that day, and was overwhelmed by it. A simple birthday cake, something many of us would take for granted or might even see as an unnecessary luxury, was a powerful expression of a mother’s love for her son.
I’ve never forgotten the lesson I learned that day. For food retailers, our job is not to tell people what they should and shouldn’t eat. Our job is to provide shoppers with choices and information, then stay out of their way and trust people to make the decisions that are right for them and their families.
In the fall of 2016, I was drawn to our Co-op because our members and shoppers built an organization that mirrored this same philosophy, with an emphasis on choice and education. Our outreach and education efforts, our commitment to local and fairly traded foods, our programs like Food for All and Pennies for Change, are all examples of our commitment to food access and a social conscience.
My thanks to all of you for making this possible. It’s not the Co-op as an institution that does this. It’s our employees and members. The Co-op is simply a conduit for good people to come together and do good work. I feel very fortunate to be a part of our teams here.
Want to talk about this? Reach out to me anytime. My door is always open.
NOURISH. CULTIVATE. COOPERATE.