Spoonfuls Spotlight: Catholic Charities of Worcester County

November 9, 2023 Updated: January 24, 2024

Spoonfuls is the largest food recovery organization in New England. That’s in terms of geography, pounds rescued, and people served. Our partnerships with food retailers and community organizations across Massachusetts are key, enabling us to recover and distribute more than 4 million pounds of food to people who need it (and that’s this year alone). In short, we can have a bigger impact when we work together! (Read more about how we work.)

Among our valued partners is Catholic Charities of Worcester County’s Greater Milford Office. Learn more about our partnership, and the impact we have together, through our interview with Aida Bonilla, Area Administrator, and Maritza Cedeño, Director of Emergency Services, at Catholic Charities of Worcester County.

You both work in a pantry based out of Catholic Charities of Worcester County. Could you explain what happens here? What services are offered to the community?

Aida: In this office, we serve a large immigrant population. We have an emergency food pantry; however, our funds are not unlimited. With Spoonfuls’ deliveries, we can offer more fresh food. Most people we serve work, but they don’t make enough money to consider buying fresher food because it’s more expensive. The reality is that Spoonfuls has been a tremendous help to our community. The work that Spoonfuls does covers an area of service that is in increasing need and that we would not have the capacity to cover on our own. 

Maritza: We have a variety of services, like our food pantry, which is a crucial resource for our clients. We also have a jacket program, offer rent and utilities assistance, help with medical appointments, provide different school services, and support filling out different paperwork because some of the parents that we serve do not know how to read and write. We also offer free immigration services and assist our clients with domestic violence [services], [reporting] abuse, and human trafficking issues. We have a pet food pantry, offer a monthly personal hygiene package, and are happy to provide a Thanksgiving service. Some of our clients feel lost when they are in this country. Our position is to help educate, lead, and orient however we can.

What does your food programming look like at Catholic Charities of Worcester County? In what ways have Spoonfuls’ deliveries supported your mission to improve access to fresh, healthy food?

Maritza: We offer food service three times per week, and our service is first come, first served. Per month, we serve more than 8,000 individuals. We do our best to buy food that we know people will eat, though sometimes it’s impossible to buy in bulk, and we have limited purchasing ability. (According to the census, it’s been determined that additional financial support is unnecessary for our program because we already have enough.)

If it weren’t for Spoonfuls’ work, we would not be serving this amount of people with the fresh food options we can now offer. Whether they come first or last, our clients always have something to take with them because of Spoonfuls’ food deliveries.

How have you seen access to fresh, healthy food make a difference to the people in the Greater Milford community?

Maritza: Healthy eating is a huge movement nationwide right now. Eating healthier means thinking smarter. Many food pantries are just beginning to learn about healthy eating options. What you put in your body can increase your blood sugar and someone’s odds of having diabetes. We see that many food pantries distribute a lot of ultra-processed foods. With Spoonfuls’ deliveries, we can offer fresher and healthier food options, which has made a significant difference for what our clients are able to feed themselves and their families.

What has been the most exciting rescued food you’ve received from Spoonfuls?

Aida: Meat is the most exciting because it is so expensive now! Also, vegetables are a hit. The food we can purchase and offer often includes rice, beans, oats, and various juices, so when we can include meat and vegetables from Spoonfuls, it completes the package! 

Some of the people we offer our services to come from rural areas and are used to eating lots of produce. They are shocked when they see canned vegetables as their only affordable option here. The Spoonfuls team brings fresh food, and people get excited about it! When Anthony, Spoonfuls’ Food Rescue Coordinator, arrives, we begin packing everything, and a short while later, people are already forming a line to get their share. They get so excited to see fresh food included in their bag. They get even more excited when they see meat and poultry.

Why do you personally care about preventing wasted food?

Maritza: I was raised believing that you need to finish everything on your plate. I personally struggle to know someone is in dire need of food. Especially knowing just how much is wasted, not only in our country, but also in our towns. We need to think of others. Spoonfuls sometimes delivers those meals that are ready to be microwaved: People love that! I believe that good food should not go to waste.

Could you tell us a story about something you’ve seen or experienced at the Greater Milford Office?

Aida and Maritza: For both of us, what we’re doing together is breaking barriers. We’re pushing against a perspective around who can and should access the services we offer based on things like race, citizenship status, or income, and this goes for any of our services, but especially food assistance. It should not be like that. 

We have an older couple who often come to our Catholic Charities location. The husband came one day looking for fresh chicken, as his wife was sick and he wanted to cook something for her. You know, we understand those little things, like what soup can mean for a loved one fighting the flu. The little things matter, and for our clients, it can be huge!

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