Serving Up Smiles

Can you imagine the fear of not knowing where your next meal will come from?  Thanks to Listen Community Services, Upper Valley residents can put that fear to rest.  They offer a “hearty three-course” community dinner that’s open to the public at 5 pm (doors open at 4 pm), Monday-Saturday at their dining hall in White River Junction, Vt.  Dinners are either donated or purchased with proceeds from the Listen Thrift Stores.

Each month Listen serves roughly 2,500 warm meals thanks to 45 volunteer cook team.  These teams come from various businesses, churches and clubs throughout the area.  And, yes, of course the Co-op is one of these teams. 

Listed on the menu as “Surprise,” the second Thursday of each month is Co-op night.  The Co-op Kitchen gets things started by preparing the bulk of the meal at their facility on A Street in Wilder, Vt., and delivering it to the dining hall.  Fruits and vegetables are culled in the Lebanon store to help make nutritious salads.  Bakery items like bread, pies and cupcakes that near their coded date are pulled so they can be consumed instead of tossed. 

At about 3:30 pm our team of 4-8 people meets at the dining hall to get food prep underway.  The ovens are heated up and food put in to warmup in time for dinner.  Fruits like melons and berries are sliced and combined to make a flashy fruit salad, and veggies are chopped and transformed into a tantalizing tossed salad.  Salads are put into separate bowls, ready for each patron to grab and go.  Desserts are cut and plated, then stored on a cart until after the meal is served.  And this all happens at the same time!

At 5 pm the crowd lines up and we get right to serving these hungry folks!  It’s a cafeteria-style setup, each visitor grabbing a tray and utensils, then going down the line for a plate and salads.  One person from the team will run food from the oven to the warming trays while the others focus on serving the meal.  When it’s time to call for seconds the kids get first priority, just another way Listen is helping to keep the youth of our communities fed. We work to box up the remaining food to be taken home, and help to clean up the kitchen, finishing usually just before 6 pm.

It may make a long day for us, but the reward we get from seeing how thankful people are is well worth it.  Not only do activities like this help us to build teamwork and comradery between employees, they help enhance our appreciation for life and allow us to give back to our community in a tangible way.

If you’d like more information about Listen Community Services please check out their website at

Top photo: Co-op staff pepare meals at a Listen dinner. From left: Sarah Simpson, Koni Fletcher, Tammy Henderson, and Lynette Mullen.

Nourish. Cultivate. Cooperate.

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Sarah Simpson

Sarah works as a Produce Category Manager in the Co-op Merchandising Department. Contact her at ssimpson at coopfoodstore dot com.