One fall morning in 2012 Wendy New was listening to National Public Radio on her way home from a hike with her husband. They both loved listening to NPR. The morning’s story caught their attention. It was about a man in California who had started a charity that collected thousands of cans of food from neighbors. The story was inspiring and thought-provoking. That night, after considerable thought, to their own amazement, Wendy and her husband made the unexpected decision to try something similar in their own neighborhood of Montgomery, Ohio. “It can’t be that hard,” Wendy thought to herself as she deliberated over what lay ahead. Boy, was she wrong!! The project took on a life of its own. However, Wendy never gave up on her decision to make it work. She organized a group of 12 friends and started making plans. They pulled the City of Montgomery into the discussion. Months passed as this amazing group of friends and neighbors toiled over details. They scoured the Internet for similar programs in other parts of the country and tried to replicate what was done elsewhere. Help came from all around. “I discovered that my neighbors had skills and talents that I did not know about,” Wendy comments. She found out that one of them was a graphic designer who created a logo and designed all the printed materials. The City of Montgomery came to their rescue by making tons of copies and prints for communication purposes. The Freestore Foodbank jumped in to help and gave them 200 reusable shopping bags to distribute throughout the neighborhood. Months later, in April 2013, the Montgomery Food Share was officially launched.
Since then, the program has spread to 22 neighborhoods as well as a few outlying locations outside of Montgomery and Blue Ash. Once a neighborhood decides to get involved, someone volunteers to be a neighborhood captain and that person signs up ongoing food donors. Every family that signs up to participate gets a reusable grocery bag. The expectation is that whenever possible, the family will add one or two items from their pantry or weekly shopping list to the bag. The donated items may include non-perishables such as rice, beans or pasta, canned goods or personal hygiene products. The items get picked up six times per year on the first Saturday of even numbered months. Participation is purely voluntary. “Some families wrongly assume that they are required to fill up the bag and then they find it difficult to keep up,” she says. “That is not the expectation at all. They are encouraged to add just one or two items to the bag. In fact sometimes we end up picking up only a couple rolls of toilet paper and that is completely okay!”
The Montgomery Food Share has exploded in the last few years. “It truly takes a village to make something like this work. I have loved the friends I have made and the relationships I have built,” says Wendy. “The program has brought the community together in unimaginable ways.” Volunteers lead the program in different ways – from spreading the word by passing out fliers to driving through different neighborhoods to pick up donations. Food that is picked up by volunteers is taken to Sycamore High School and placed in bins provided by the Freestore Foodbank. “We generally fill about 45-50 barrels in the space of a couple of hours,” says Wendy. In December 2017 they raised over 6,000 lbs of food. The program has found widespread support among volunteers and donors alike. Sycamore Community Schools Board of Education became a huge supporter and Sycamore High School has evolved into a hub from which the Freestore Foodbank truck picks up the donated items. “When I remember how we started and think of how far we’ve come, I am incredulous,” Wendy observes. “I did not ever think that this program would be able to make such a wonderful difference. “ Wendy’s program feeds thousands of families in the tristate region every year. The Freestore Foodbank appreciates the vision, commitment and hard work that goes into running a program that is so successful and that engages a significant portion of the community. To learn more about Montgomery Food Share go to https://bit.ly/2ObkmUN