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Bay Villagers come together to help Greater Boston Food Bank

Posted by Laura Gomez  April 18, 2013 12:33 PM

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Alex Parker for Boston.com
Caitlyn Bransfield, a member of the Bay Village Neighborhood Association, regularly volunteers at the Greater Boston Food Bank. She helped lead an initiative in which 26 association members donated their time helping the Food Bank.

Upon seeing hundreds upon hundreds of Chiquita Banana boxes, you can’t help but get the Chiquita Banana theme song running through your mind: “I’m Chiquita banana and I’ve come to say, bananas have to ripen in a certain way.”

But the boxes aren’t filled with bananas. They’re filled with food that will be distributed through the Greater Boston Food Bank with the help of the Bay Village Neighborhood Association’s volunteer initiative.

About a year ago, Bay Village Neighborhood Association Social Committee member Caitlyn Bransfield decided that rather than giving up something for Lent, she wanted to add something to her life and began to volunteer at the Greater Boston Food Bank across the street from Winston Flowers, where she works.

“Every day I look at this building, which for me personally is how this whole thing started,” Bransfield said. “I was just looking for volunteer opportunities, so this just sort of seemed like a convenient thing that I knew that I could do. I work a lot so it needed to be something that was easy for me to get to and didn’t take too long to get to, so I literally just walked across the street.”

Bransfield, whose goal is to volunteer at the Food Bank about once a month, decided to get her neighbors involved with the project. “As part of the social committee of the Neighborhood Association I thought it would be fun to get my neighbors to come as well,” said Bransfield.

Though the association holds many community events for the neighborhood, this was the group’s first volunteer initiative as a group.

“This is actually our first event, this is our maiden voyage,” said Nan Rubin, director of the association’s social committee. “We have fund-raisers for the neighborhood, we have block parties. Within all of the events we will give as well to another nonprofit organization. At our holiday party we actually gathered money and food items for the Greater Boston Food Bank as a way to kind of kick this off.”

The 26 residents of Bay Village attending the event gathered around a large conveyor belt full of banana boxes to take their turn sorting the food, while a second group headed downstairs to manage the heavy lifting.

“The volunteers come in and they sort by category,” said Denise Chaney, team member at the Greater Boston Food Bank. “We have over twenty categories — from shelf-life things like canned goods to non-canned goods like paper towels.”

“So what they’re looking for is if things are open or damaged we have to throw it away, depending on what it is,” Chaney said. “Everybody has a category they box. We have people that oversee to make sure that a beverage is a beverage and pasta is pasta. We have palettes for all those products downstairs and then the agencies who are members here can go online and order what they need.”

The volunteers check all the food items that get boxed up to be sure they are properly labeled so they are allergy safe and properly sealed before they are distributed. They try to keep as much food as possible, despite any cosmetic defects, provided the defects do not pose any health risks to the consumer.

Bransfield is no newcomer to the process and was glad to help out any first timers as well.

“Each person right now is by a box that has a specific category to it, whatever it might be,” Bransfield explained. “Not all of this stuff unfortunately can be used based on expiration dates or dents in cans or unmarked items. Often times its more some of these products have aesthetic problems but not actual fundamental problems with the food.”

Whether it was the sorting of food, the breaking down of boxes or the packaging of items, Bransfield was impressed by her neighborhood’s community spirit and hopes to make the volunteer initiative a reoccurring event.

“I think we had a bigger turnout than we sort of expected for tonight,” Bransfield said. “I think realistically if we could do it two to three times a year, set an obtainable goal for the neighborhood.”

“I think once people hear about it, more people will come,” said Ken Ham, CIO of the Bay Village Neighborhood Association.

“Our neighborhood is so tight-knit and close anyway that we kind of try to promote that, do as much as we can with one another,” said Bransfield.

Bransfield hopes that after the success of the neighborhood’s first volunteer initiative that the neighborhood continues to work together whatever the project might be.

“It’s unlike any city neighborhood,” said Bransfield. “Bay Village is like a suburb in the city of people that know each other’s names, people that know each other’s dog’s names, that do this type of thing on a random Wednesday night. To me it’s home.”

All together Bay Village sorted 9,843 net pounds of food, helping make possible a total of 7,592 meals.

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Alex Parker for Boston.com
Members of the Bay Village Neighborhood Association volunteering at the Greater Boston Food Bank.

This article is being published under a partnership between the Boston Globe and Emerson College.

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