August 30, 2011 | Sustainability + Energy, Vermont Community

We know how much it matters to free up a spare bedroom, couch, or corner of our homes for family or friends when they’re in need. It may be for a few nights, a few weeks, or longer to help a loved one through a tough jam or a sustained challenge. At NRG Systems, we believe that making room for family applies to neighbors, too, and to ways businesses can stretch to help address vital community needs.

One of these needs is hunger. Images of Vermont’s dairy farms, rolling agricultural fields, and abundant farmers’ markets can convey the impression that Vermonters are all a well-fed bunch. But this impression is only 86% right. Recent statistics from Hunger Free Vermont reveal that 14% of our state population and one in every five Vermont children are “food insecure.” Food insecurity is defined as the “lack of access to enough food to fully meet basic needs at all times due to lack of financial resources.” In other words, too many of our neighbors are going hungry. In fact, Vermont is ranked as the 9th hungriest state in the nation.

Stepping Up, Jumping In

NRG Systems is jumping in, we hope, to help change this. This past summer, the Hinesburg Emergency Food Shelf  approached NRG Systems about facilities needs. This community program, led by dedicated volunteers and a part-time coordinator, help 110 local families each month put adequate food on their tables. For years, the group has worked out of a church basement. But in the recent recession, the need has escalated so dramatically that the Food Shelf has outgrown its space.

Where to go now, they asked? We met with Food Shelf board and staff to brainstorm the options. Ideally, the new location would not only be rent-free – to allow maximum donor dollars to go to food, not facilities – but also be conveniently located with parking and handicap access. It would offer enough square footage for volunteers to receive, organize and store food shipments, and pack family food boxes. When clients arrived for twice-weekly distribution hours, there would be enough room for them and their children to wait, shop, and receive information about other assistance. A small cooking area would allow on-site nutrition sessions or food sampling (“Here’s something to make with a can of black beans that your kids will love!”). And, a loading dock would be a huge plus.

Pulling Together for Quick Results

NRG Systems realized we had an under-utilized building that fit the bill exactly, and moved quickly to make it available to the Food Shelf for two years, free of charge. Hinesburg volunteers, including local residents and employees from NRG Systems and other area businesses, have come together to prepare and equip the space. We are building new partitions to create a friendly waiting area and office, installing freshly-painted grocery-style shelving, wiring new appliance-level outlets, carrying in donated furniture, and hauling freezers, refrigerators, and boxes of food from the former church basement to the new space.

Later this week, the Hinesburg Emergency Food Shelf will open its new doors for the first time to client families collecting their weekly groceries. We are eager to hear how the new space works and what Food Shelf clients and volunteers think about it.

Someday NRG Systems may need the building back, but “someday” is off in the future, while hunger is right here, right now, in our own home town. We are thrilled that NRG Systems has some extra room that allows us to stretch for neighbors.

How You Can Help

For those living in the U.S., you can find excellent resources about addressing local hunger at Feeding America. We invite those from around the world to share your stories about the difference you are making in your own home communities.

Ann Jones-Weinstock is Director of Community Initiatives at NRG Systems.