Burlington-based Helping and Nurturing Diverse Seniors, aka HANDS, recently received a $3,500 grant from Age Well, northwestern Vermont's area agency on aging, for a new effort to reach previously underserved seniors within the BIPOC and New American communities. Over the past 22 years, the nonprofit has provided food and created cooking and gardening programs for Chittenden County seniors who are low-income.
The HANDS Diverse Pantry pilot will collaborate with community partners to source and distribute a wider range of culturally appropriate ingredients than traditionally offered through the charitable food system. For example, the program may facilitate delivery of Vermont-grown African eggplant or Himalayan rice, as well as spices sourced from small, local markets.
"COVID brought so much to the surface about racial justice and equity," HANDS executive director Megan Humphrey said. "It made us even more aware we needed to embrace different seniors."
Since the pandemic struck, research has found that food insecurity is at least five times as likely to affect households that identify as BIPOC or Hispanic.
Julia MacGibeny, Feeding Chittenden's access center manager, said the HANDS Diverse Pantry will help fill a gap. In order to build a more respectful, stigma-free charitable food system, MacGibeny said, it's important to know who you're serving and to "focus on [foods] people want, not on just what we have."
While younger members of a New American household might acclimate fairly quickly to a Western diet, Humphrey said, seniors are often more comfortable with familiar foods.
"It's about getting them food that they miss," Humphrey said. "Food evokes memories and connections. It's a really important thing."
You can learn more at handsvt.org.