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Bringing Summer’s Bounty to Our Older Neighbors with We Are Family

By Tulin Ozdeger, Co-Executive Director, We Are Family
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Summer is one of my favorite times of year. I love the warmer weather, the longer days, and the chance just to spend more time outside. As an avid gardener and cook, I also love the bounty of fresh fruits and vegetables that arrive in my garden and at the farmers market this time of year.

My background is Turkish and I grew up tagging along with my parents at the amazing farmers markets in Turkey, marveling at all of the delicious foods we would soon bring home to cook and eat. I know that good ingredients make really good food.

I am Co-Executive Director of We Are Family, an outreach and advocacy organization that serves low-income older residents of the North Capital, Shaw, Columbia Heights, Petworth, and Adams Morgan neighborhoods of DC. When I got a call from Dalila Boclin at Community Foodworks two years ago to discuss collaborating with their Columbia Heights Farmers Market, I jumped at the chance.

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We Are Family serves over 700 seniors each month, with year-round monthly non-perishable grocery deliveries, visits, transportation, Thanksgiving and holiday gift deliveries, and a whole lot more. Most of our seniors are living at or below the poverty line and many are isolated, lacking any nearby family. So, We Are Family walks beside them to help them age in place with a good quality of life.

IMG_4489I know how popular our monthly grocery deliveries are with our seniors, as each month the list grows and grows right now we deliver to over 725 seniors each month. Given our seniors’ meager incomes and the fact that DC recently ranked as the 4th worst place in the nation for older adult food insecurity, the great need for free food deliveries is hardly surprising.

I had long dreamed of bringing free, high quality farmers market produce to our seniors, as I know that many simply do not have the money or the mobility to get the fresh produce they desperately want and need. I also loved the idea of supporting local farmers and the Columbia Heights Farmers Market, given how important they are to our local food systems and to the health of our community and environment.

IMG_3436The response from our seniors to the produce deliveries has been tremendous. They love getting such delicious, healthy food each week! After our very first delivery, I got several calls from seniors raving about the produce and telling me how excited they were to cook with it. One of them said she eagerly got up extra early the next day to start cooking the greens she had gotten in her bag.

In 2015, we started out serving 35 seniors each week with our produce deliveries and, as of this week, we are now delivering bags of fresh produce to just over 160 seniors. Through our partnership with Community Foodworks, We Are Family is able to purchase the produce for our seniors from the Market at a wholesale price.

Community Foodworks orders the food and makes the bags for us each week. With help from our volunteers, We Are Family picks up the bags from the farmers market and delivers them to our seniors in three nearby buildings we serve in Columbia Heights.

One bit of feedback we got from some seniors last year was that they were not always sure what the vegetables were in their bags or how to prepare them. So, this year, I decided to include a flier from We Are Family listing the bag’s items with pictures, along with some simple recipe ideas each week. Like many of us, sometimes our seniors aren’t quite sure what to do with the produce when they get it. Coming up with recipes has even helped me get a little more creative in my kitchen. (My 7-year-old son was surprised when he actually liked the swiss chard omelet recipe I put on one flier!)

Given our lean paid staff of only 2, We Are Family relies tremendously on the help of volunteers. There is no way we could deliver food to over 700 seniors each month without them! We will be delivering produce each Wednesday afternoon from 3:30 to 5:30 through October 11th and welcome you to join us.

We also have regular Saturday morning volunteer events all throughout the year, including grocery deliveries, visits, and grocery bag assemblies. (A calendar and sign up for our events can be found here: www.wearefamilydc.org/events.)Ms Glover produce pic

The volunteer experience can be a powerful, even transformative one. My life is a testament to that truth. I came to DC for law school a little over 20 years ago and started volunteering with older DC residents several years later. The seniors I have met have had such a profound impact on my life. When I first moved here, I didn’t think I would stay, much less find myself co-directing a group like We Are Family – but here I am! We know how much your volunteer time will mean to our seniors, but you might well be surprised how much it will mean in your life too.
We hope you can join us in spreading good food and caring community!

Guest Post: Washington Youth Garden

Today we welcome the Washington Youth Garden to GoodWorks! Using the garden cycle as a tool to enrich science learning, inspire environmental stewardship and cultivate healthy food choices http://iga.edu/best-paper-writing-service-essay/ in youth and families, the Washington Youth Garden is in its 40th year to service to local youth and families.

Today’s post is from Mel Jones, the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) Coordinator at John Burroughs Education Campus. Gardening is hard work. So is being a public school teacher. It’s no surprise then that school gardens are such an uphill battle for DC teachers and administrators. This letter from one of the Washington Youth Garden’s partner schools helps show why partnerships are so valuable.

Growing Green Dreams at Local Schools

by Mel JonesDisplaying Mel Watering.jpg

Since beginning as a science teacher here over ten years ago, I have made repeated attempts to start a garden. I knew my students would have a better understanding of science if there was more hands-on learning. However, despite my efforts, I didn’t have the expertise or the time to develop a real, working garden.

In 2011, our partnership with the Washington Youth Garden made the dream of a school garden come alive as third graders filled new raised beds with soil and transplanted lettuce, which they later harvested for salad pitas. Since then, the garden has become a part of every student’s experience, from compost investigation projects to school-wide sweet potato tastings.

The garden continues to expose students to new fruits and vegetables and provide an outdoor science laboratory. With grant funding, we’ve hired a School Garden Coordinator who regularly teaches our Early Childhood classes and collaborates with teachers to integrate the garden into science and literacy lessons. Plans are in progress to install a kitchen classroom to give our students year-round opportunities to cook healthy foods and learn about science and nutrition. The Washington Youth Garden has made a truly wonderful difference for our students and our school!

How does the Washington Youth Garden support school gardens?
The Washington Youth Garden provides multi-stage school garden partnerships that help schools integrate their school garden into the curriculum, teach garden-instruction best practices, seek independent funding, and plan for long-term sustainability. Currently, we support thriving school garden programs at four low-income partner schools in Ward 5.

How can you support this?
A pledge of $500 supports the cost of closely collaborating with a teacher to deliver four hands-on, curriculum-aligned garden lessons.

Learn more about the Washington Youth Garden on their website, blog, Facebook page and current Indiegogo Online Fundraiser.

In The News …

Law Change Intended To Spur School System Food Donations (Leesburg Today): “Some altered language in the annual spending bill that funds the US Department of Agriculture will most likely translate into more donated food for local food banks and pantries [...] The change clarifies the law to make it clear that public school districts can donate excess food without any concern that they are not covered under the Good Samaritan Act, which protects donors who give to food banks in good faith from all liability.” To find a list of Catalogue nonprofits focused on hunger and housing, head this way.

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