By ARDEN BASTIA We Share Hope, a new nonprofit, is changing the way food donations are collected, thanks to local volunteers like Warwick's Gena Gambuto. We Share Hope launched a new program in early July, making it possible for local residents to
We Share Hope, a new nonprofit, is changing the way food donations are collected, thanks to local volunteers like Warwick’s Gena Gambuto.
We Share Hope launched a new program in early July, making it possible for local residents to donate nonperishable food items right from their homes.
In a recent interview, executive director Johanna Corcoran said she’s “really excited” to kick-off this initiative.
“Over the past year, we’ve learned that a lot of folks realized they can do so many things from home. That’s why we’re offering a program that lets people help us fight food insecurity from home.”
The pandemic has exasperated the food insecurity issue statewide. According to data from the Rhode Island Community Food Bank, over 25 percent of RI residents are food insecure, meaning they are often unsure where their next meal will come from due to a lack of resources. One in seven children face hunger or come from a food insecure household.
Corcoran said the idea to start We Share Hope came from “a series of nudges” in her brain.
“I, like so many others probably, this time last year was stocking up in light of some of the shortages at the supermarket,” she said. “I found myself buying extra pasta and flour, and putting things in plastic bins and holding on to them just in case.”
The shortages that left store shelves empty didn’t last long, and Corcoran found that she never dipped into her reserves.
“I wondered if other people did something similar and I think they had,” she said. Inspired by other organizations collecting used goods, Corcoran said she “floated the idea” and the project took off.
“I don’t know of any other organizations in Rhode Island that go to people’s homes to pick up non-perishable items,” she said.
But Corcoran isn’t tackling the issue alone. Thanks to a group of dedicated volunteers, like Warwick’s Gena Gambuto, over 2,000 pounds of food have been collected from Rhode Island porches and doorsteps in just the last three weeks.
Volunteers like Gambuto “take over cities and towns”, explained Corcoran, to manage pick-ups and make it as easy as possible to donate. Volunteers collect donations and then bring them to the We Share Hope facility in Rumford, where the food goes through quality control before being distributed to the We Share Hope self-serve pantry or other local food distribution sites, like churches and community centers throughout the state. Working with local distributors and volunteers is how We Share Hope can identify what residents need the most help.
“Hunger isn’t going away,” she said, pointing out that the pantry typically serves 125 people a day, but on Monday night, there was a line out the door of more than 200 people.
The project is still relatively new, and while there are 15 volunteers currently collecting donations across the state, Corcoran says the organization is open to accepting new volunteers.
“Some of the volunteers are able to collect from neighboring towns, which allows us to expand even more,” she said.
Gambuto said she was inspired to help because of her daughter’s involvement in the National Honor Society.
Gambuto saw the ad for volunteers on Facebook, and reached out, thinking it would be a good activity for her and her daughter to do together.
“When I finally got in touch with [We Share Hope] I originally thought I’d be the one delivering food,” she said, laughing.
When she isn’t circling the city on Tuesday mornings, looking for donations, she is a flight attendant, a mom, and an avid gym-goer.
“As a flight attendant, I often have days off at a time and I wanted to do something meaningful with some of that free time. I love that it circles back to the community,” she said. “You’ve got to do something good out there, and be a good role model to these kids.”
Corcoran says the best part about We Share Hope is getting calls from donors.
“They’ll say, ‘This is awesome, we’ve had these items and we don’t know where to send them,’” said Corcoran. “Not everyone can volunteer at the food bank, but they can go into their pantries and see what they have.”
Donors receive We Share Hope reusable shopping bags upon donation, which Corcoran says keeps the organization at the front of people’s minds.
“Continue to think of us even after your pantry clean out,” she said. “Maybe next time you’re at the grocery store, fill up the We Share Hope bag with donations. And we’ll go back and pick up food as many times as you call.”
Corcoran says the most needed items are rice, canned beans, canned vegetables, canned meat like tuna or chicken, peanut butter, and pasta. To schedule a donation pickup, visit www.wesharehope.org/pickup or call (401) 638-4673.