Last week, the staff members on our Community Food Partnerships team met for a tour of TABLE’s facility on East Main Street, a block from our Carrboro store. TABLE is the current recipient of your Round Up donations in the Carrboro and Southern Village stores.
Michelle Perry welcomed us in to the small building where TABLE receives and sorts donations before sending them out for delivery to after-school programs, community centers, and neighborhoods, and even sometimes to homes. Shelves filled with nonperishables lined one wall, while refrigerators for fruits and vegetables stood opposite. TABLE does not yet have a walk-in cooler, one of the biggest items on their wish list. (In fact, they just began a capital campaign to raise money to move to a larger facility altogether.)
Thursday is the busiest day at TABLE, as volunteers prepare the 700 bags that will be delivered to children on Friday, to provide them with healthy food over the weekend. The food might include cereal, fruits and vegetables, beans, canned tuna, or soup. TABLE doesn’t pass out sugary snacks, high-salt foods, or other unhealthy or expired foods; any such donations are sent to local food pantries who will use them. Michelle also explained that TABLE has two “menus” that recipients can choose from. One menu includes items that must be cooked, such as dry beans or sweet potatoes, while the other includes only ready-to-eat items like apples, raisins, or breakfast bars. Michelle pointed to homeless teenagers as one population they serve who lack the means to cook.
The students served age from preschool through high school. While anyone can apply for assistance from TABLE, many of the families they serve are sent from social services at schools. They began by serving kids who were receiving subsidized school meals, but they’ve received applications from families who have lost a job or had some other emergency.
While TABLE works during the school year to provide meals on weekends, the funds collected through Round Up donations fund a different program: the Summer Backpack Program. The program provides weekend meals to children during the summer months. (Food for Summer provides weekday meals, since students are out of school and do not have subsidized school lunches.) Last summer, TABLE served 525 kids for 10 weekends with Round Up funds. (The number actually varies by week, as the children are harder to find, for example, on Fridays when summer camps are not in session. The overall lower number during the summer highlights the difficulties TABLE has reaching kids.)
Michelle stressed that TABLE could not run without volunteers. They use at least 100 volunteers each week. Volunteers take in donations, marking the expiration date visibly on each. This is a huge job as some donations arrive on pallets at the back door. Donation sources include other food banks, individuals and religious organizations who host food drives, and local businesses and farms. The volunteers sort onto shelves, and then fill bags with an assembly line method. TABLE hosts special volunteer shifts for parents and children, but these shifts fill quickly. Children are actually welcome at most other volunteer shifts, where they can do tasks like put a can of tuna into each bag on the “assembly line.” Some volunteers deliver the bags, which requires a vehicle. TABLE currently delivers to 31 sites.
Other volunteers help with TABLE’s Snack Chef nutrition program, where groups of children learn about nutrition and how to make a healthy snack they can recreate at home. The program encourages kids to try new things; the group setting means that once one child tries the snack, others are likely to do so. This program particularly needs volunteers, as the time of day makes it hard for parents and high schoolers to participate. TABLE also runs a free summer camp for middle schoolers, Camp TABLE, which focuses on having the participants volunteer and learn about community while also making friends and having fun. And, TABLE takes children who might not be able to pay for a field trip to places like MapleView Farm.
During the summer, TABLE loses a lot of their volunteers when the college students leave town. Thankfully, high school students pick up some of the slack. But TABLE is always in need of new volunteers, especially as summer begins and ends. You can sign up for shifts online at their website: https://www.tablenc.org/get-involved-1