Daily Bread

H yclis Williams is on the move. It’s 7:30 on a Friday morning, and she’s already backed her gold minivan up to the loading dock at Chabaso Bakery in Fair Haven. She signs in just inside the back door, and a worker helps her load five boxes of rolls and baguettes into the van. Then she’s off: pulling out of the parking lot onto James Street, making a left on Humphrey, then heading downtown on State. A few minutes later, she’s parking in front of Bruegger’s Bagels on the corner of Grove and Whitney, where two giant bags of bagels are waiting for her.

The final stop is Dr. Reginald Mayo Early Childhood School on Goffe Street, where Williams is on staff as a family service worker. It’s close to 8 a.m. now, and parents are dropping off their kids. Everyone knows Friday is bagel day, and many of them stop in the lobby to pick up some food on their way out. At noon, another delivery will bring fresh produce and other items from Trader Joe’s. The food will be sorted into what Williams describes as “a little supermarket” for Mayo. Except everything is free.

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Williams is one of 180 volunteers with Haven’s Harvest, a New Haven nonprofit that connects businesses that have excess food to community partners that can use it. The organization began when Lori Martin and her teenaged son, Caleb Martin Mooney, decided to try out an app developed by Food Rescue US, a Norwalk-based company. The app enables volunteers to “transfer fresh, usable, excess food from grocers, restaurants, and other sources to hungry families throughout the US,” its website says.

Martin recalls the humblest of beginnings. In their first run, they picked up and delivered one baguette. It didn’t exactly feel as if they were going to change the world.

Part of the problem, Martin says, was that businesses were reluctant to donate because previous “runners” had been unreliable, too picky about what they’d take and grouchy to boot. “I said, ‘Well, I’ll be reliable,’” Martin recalls. “I said, ‘We’ll take everything as long as it’s good.’” And she promised she’d be cheerful doing it. “To be truthful, I was a little put off by [that] approach to us initially. Then I realized that was the best lesson because now I know on the donor side, those three pieces are really important.”

That was three and a half years ago. Today, Haven’s Harvest has about 180 volunteers delivering to about 70 sites citywide. Last year, they recovered 978,000 pounds of food. The app covers about 80% of donations. The rest are managed directly by Martin via phone, text and email.

When she found out about Haven’s Harvest, Williams couldn’t wait to get involved. She often saw food insecurity at Reginald Mayo firsthand. “Food issues always hit me hard… How could people not have food?” she says. “It was always a difficult thing to find emergency food.” Sometimes she could come up with a one-time donation, but that wasn’t adequate. When she found Haven’s Harvest, she signed up as a volunteer and started her Bruegger’s pickup.

People were reluctant at first to take the offerings, Williams says, but eventually they warmed up and began to look forward to the bread and bagels. It took another year to get the school lined up with Trader Joe’s. “Lori just has a way of touching people,” Williams says of Martin. “She goes out there, she does the work.”

Haven’s Harvest food comes from a number of local sources, all of them donating multiple times each week: G Cafe Bakery, Liuzzi Gourmet Food Market, Thyme & Season, Chabaso, Trader Joe’s. A large restaurant supply company makes an annual drop. And Yale University has a “robust food recovery program” in partnership with Haven’s Harvest, Martin says.

Donations end up with local faith communities, Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services (IRIS), JUNTA for Progressive Action, senior residential sites, schools and neighborhoods. Everyone should be eating it, Martin says, because “the volume of excess food is huge” and its window of freshness is small. “A lot of times we get huge amounts of food that is perfectly ripe… so what you need then is a lot of mouths and people to eat that food right away,” Martin says. Longstanding federal law protects the food donor and the receiving site “as long as the food is given with good intention,” Martin says, making it possible to put the food in the hands of those who need it.

Taking the Haven’s Harvest operation to the next level of usefulness and efficiency is Martin’s current struggle. She’s looking for more stable funding. And while the Food Rescue US app is crucial to Haven’s Harvest’s success, she sees a bigger picture: the need for policy change in affordable housing, health care and livable wages, all of which will be needed in order to end food insecurity.

In the meantime, Martin says, she keeps practicing what she preaches at home with her own four kids, cooking with them and teaching them to be mindful about food. “I hope that my kids see there’s another way to live in the world… You can take care of it at a grassroots level and make a difference.”

Haven’s Harvest
(203) 936-9460 | havensharvest@gmail.com
www.havensharvest.org

Written and photographed by Kathy Leonard Czepiel. Images feature Hyclis Williams making her rounds.

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About Kathy Leonard Czepiel

View all posts by Kathy Leonard Czepiel
Kathy Leonard Czepiel is Daily Nutmeg's associate editor. She's also a fiction writer, writing teacher and book club troubleshooter. Her perfect New Haven day would involve lots of sunshine, a West Rock hike, a concert on the green and a coffee milkshake.

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