Health Department Creates Programs To Combat Food Insecurity

by William F. Galvin
Health Department Director Carrie Schoener discusses The People's Fridge and The People's Garden programs. WILLIAM F. GALVIN PHOTO Health Department Director Carrie Schoener discusses The People's Fridge and The People's Garden programs. WILLIAM F. GALVIN PHOTO

HARWICH – Residents may have noticed the refrigerator placed outside the community center. It is the service center for “The People’s Fridge” program, which began Monday and will make food accessible 24 hours a day.

“The goal of the community fridge is to aid in food security and reduce food waste,” said Health Department Director Carrie Schoener.

“We aim to collect ready-to-eat foods, preferably healthy meals from local food sources to reduce waste, while providing a free meal to the community.” While focused on feeding kids, the program is available to all residents experiencing food insecurity.

“The People’s Fridge” is tied to “The People’s Garden,” a new program underway at 204 Sisson, the cultural center, where a vegetable garden has been started, the fruits of which will help supply The People’s Fridge.

Food insecurity among children increased by 33 percent from 2019 to 2021, and due to the high cost of living, 25 to 30 percent of food insecure families do not qualify for federal assistance, according to Schoener. During the school year, kids have access to meals, but during the summer access to healthy food is not a given, she said.

“We’re hoping it goes to the kids floating around the community center who may be looking for a meal when they are not in school,” Schoener said. “It will be helpful to people who are sick or injured and just can’t prepare a meal. We just don’t want people to be hungry. The intent is to help anybody who needs it.”

Schoener said the refrigerator will be stocked with 10 prepackaged lunches Mondays through Fridays by Food 4 Kids, a local nonprofit that serves children on the Outer Cape with meals during the summertime. The Barnstable County Extension Service collects overflows of produce and soups to reduce waste and address food insecurity, Schoener said, and has offered to share food for the fridge.

There are a couple of The People’s Fridge programs popping up on the Cape. Schoener said the Hyannis Library works with the Family Table Collaborative to fill the library’s fridge, and the collaborative could assist with the Harwich program as well. Harwich is also working with the Eastham Health Department, which

is also establishing a program.

“Our intent is to have it as an ongoing resource from the community, but it will depend on funding, food and grants,” Schoener said.

The health department is working with the Harwich Chamber of Commerce, which will help manage financial and food donations for the program, according to Schoener. The hope is that local restaurants will participate with overflow soups and meal contributions, she said.

The program has already received $1,500 from the Public Health Excellency Fund, a state program, to purchase the 15-cubic-foot refrigerator, and $1,000 from the United Way to purchase a freezer, which will either be located next to the fridge or in the basement of the community center.

There is a grant pending from Shaw’s market for $2,499 for the purchase of fresh produce from the market to stock the fridge. The Cape Cod Five is committing $2,500 to purchase a raised garden bed for The People’s Garden program at the cultural center, where there are no plastic raised beds growing vegetables. The Harwich Elementary School Garden Club helped plant the self-watering beds. The plan is to move away from the plastic beds and install the raised wooden bed funded by the bank, said Schoener. She also said the health department is looking for a donor who will fund a greenhouse to be located behind the cultural center.

Education programs will be incorporated into The People’s Garden program to help Harwich residents to be more confident and self-reliant through gardening, Schoener said. The county master gardeners have agreed to conduct a hands-on class to teach gardening to residents. The hope is that they will provide more programs next year, she said.

“The garden fits in nicely for stacking the fridge and providing healthy food for the community,” Schoener said.

Volunteers are being sought to assist in the program, and AmeriCorps members may be asked to help build the volunteer base and create educational programming for the residents.

“We’re all very excited about these programs,” Schoener said. “There is a strong need within this community.”