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Rachel’s Table turns 30 

This month, Rachel’s Table turns 30! Thirty years ago, service-minded, bold women from the Women’s Philanthropy division of the Jewish Federation of Western Massachusetts decided they wanted to meet a local need that would make a real difference in many people’s lives. Some of the nine women who later became Rachel’s Table’s original steering committee—Judy Ingis, Susanne Osofsky, Myra Gold, Liz Kittredge, Patty Belsky, Linda Skole, Ronnie Leavitt, Nancy Posnick, and Daydie Hochberg — went to Worcester to learn about the original Rachel’s Table program and came back determined that if there was food in Western Massachusetts going to landfills while people were going hungry, then they were going to start Rachel’s Table in Springfield. 

Since 1992, Rachel’s Table has been filling a large gap in hunger alleviation for a wide and diverse community in Western Massachusetts. While food banks have been around since the 1960’s, the idea of rescuing food was a novel one, and one that our RT founders found exciting. Since that auspicious time, the mission of Rachel’s Table has remained strong with its daily recommitment to food justice through our passionate volunteers, some of whom have been with Rachel’s Table from the very beginning. This September, we will honor our volunteers at our annual Volunteer Appreciation Event.

Rachel’s Table is now serving 3 counties, rescues and purchases a larger and healthier variety of food, has created many community-engagement initiatives such as gleaning to raise awareness and gather food. Our newest addition is Growing Gardens, a food justice and equity initiative where agencies that serve the food insecure can grow their own food alongside their constituents. Very soon, Rachel’s Table will have its very first refrigerated van to bring even more food to those in need throughout the Pioneer Valley.

A core value that is embedded in the origin of Rachel’s Table comes from the biblical book of Leviticus — to love your neighbor as yourself. When we treat others with dignity as we distribute food, only deliver food that we ourselves would eat, when we have a produce cart to give food to people instead of using paper bags, and when we step in to meet any food gap, like we recently did with refugees in partnership with Jewish Family Services, we are loving our neighbors as we do ourselves. 

When we have walked in another’s shoes, we can more likely understand and empathize with their predicament. For the past three years in my position, I haven’t disclosed that I was on WIC (a supplemental nutrition program for women, infants, and children) when my son was young. My experience from that time makes me more aware of the stigma and shame that can come with needing support. I remember hiding from anyone I knew in the grocery store and only heading to checkout when they left. The shame of handing the checks to the cashier was at times paralyzing. My history has made me aware and understanding of what others may be going through when they are on government services. Still, my story is small in comparison to many others facing larger systemic challenges and for whom leaving government services puts them deeper into poverty (the cliff effect). Rachel’s Table, and I personally, carry the perspective that each individual needs to be treated with dignity as we serve and recommit for the next 30 years to not only alleviating but hopefully eradicating hunger in our community. 

September is also Hunger Action Month, so we are making sure that Rachel’s Table’s anniversary year starts off with an aggressive action plan where we are feeding as many people as possible in the most dignified way possible. Join us as we celebrate our 30th year, also known in the Jewish tradition as the year of strength, as we go from strength to strength with you to help as many people as possible in our community. 

To a day when we’re all at the table,

Jodi Falk

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