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What’s in a name? 

Volunteer Steve Lepow distributes healthy snacks to The Gray House Executive Director Kristen McClintock.

When I first interviewed for the position of Director of Rachel’s Table, (RT), the nearly 30-year-old program of the Jewish Federation of Western Massachusetts, I learned that there was another Rachel’s Table in Worcester, based at the Jewish Federation in Central MA, which preceded ours based in Springfield. I called the RT office in Worcester and asked why it was called Rachel’s Table. 

Their answer involved the biblical Rachel’s role as the mother of Joseph, who advised the Egyptian Pharaoh on how to prepare for famine by storing food. I thought more about the character of Rachel herself, her empathy, and her need for crying out for the dispossessed, homeless, and exiled. I also thought about how both RT programs were started by women who wanted to close the gap between the great amount of food going to waste and our neighbors who are hungry. My desire then, coming in as program director, was to update the story behind the name to include more of Rachel herself, her empathy and desire to help those who need it, and by doing so, elevate the female-built programs and expand upon Rachel’s Table’s offerings in western Massachusetts.

Rachel’s Table is unique among many food rescue/access programs in that we have holistic approach to food security, helping to not only make sure food doesn’t go to waste, but also to do our part to support sustainable access to healthy food in ways that amplify a voice and a choice for those we serve. Not only do we rescue food, but we purchase, glean, and now help grow healthy food for and with folks who are food insecure. We do all of this primarily through a passionate and hard-working group of intergenerational volunteers ranging from young teens to nonagenarians. Besides our volunteers, we have a lean but dedicated staff that goes above and beyond to ensure we fill the gap where is needed most. We bring people together, from all walks of life, to make sure those who are hungry, homeless, and dispossessed are taken care of and supported.

Many people ask if we are a food bank, or if we are an agency ourselves. We are neither. We are the logistics behind moving food as fast and safely as possible to as many people in need as we can. Among our agencies are those that are not served by any other food access program or food bank, and we pick up food that is not picked up by other access programs, such as prepared food or catered food. We partner with food banks, and have agency partners, but we provide a service not provided elsewhere – immediate rescue, community engagement, and programs that work towards sustainable options for greater equity and self-determination. Our size, much smaller than a food bank, allows us as a small staff with a large volunteer base and even larger commitment to pivot quickly to meet needs as they arise. We respond to the community – our partner agencies’ needs, their constituents’ needs, and the needs of the larger community. 

We are a nimble program that can pivot to help refugees during a gap in their services as well as offer special programs providing Thanksgiving meals or fresh fruit in winter. We run a teen program that teaches youth to educate themselves and others about food insecurity and advocate for systemic change. We offer opportunities for communities to get together, to glean, to run, to create food drives or give at their local farmer’s market. We are the answer to the question, “what can I do?” When each of us can answer that question, when we can truly make a difference, we are embodying Rachel, caring for our community, with your help, for decades to come. 

To a day when we’re all at the table,

Jodi Falk
Director

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