lead 1Written by Jane Vossler

Bennington Kitchen Cupboard had a lot of sage cheddar cheese on its hands, and their clients, who are called “guests,” had been refusing it.  The flecks of sage looked too much like mold.  Sue Andrews, who oversees the Kitchen Cupboard, wasn’t about to let all that good cheese go to waste.  She baked up some mac and cheese and passed out samples.  Soon the sage cheddar was making its way into Cupboard guests’ meals.

Sue Andrews is a problem solver with a vision.  She wants to help the food insecure to become more self-sufficient, to eat healthier food, and to be part of the community.  No one would disagree with these goals yet they’re challenging, not just in Vermont, but across the nation.

Andrews has secured plots in a community garden just down the road from the Kitchen Cupboard.  Volunteers and guests planted the garden under the supervision of a master gardener and two interns.  When guests arrive at the Kitchen Cupboard, they are encouraged to do some work in the garden.  “It’s a hard sell,” admitted Andrews, “but some people have become regulars.”   For those who discover they like gardening, it could make a big difference in the quality of food they consume.  Plus, all the produce grown goes to the Cupboard for distribution.

Andrews obtained a grant to install a small kitchen with a stove, a refrigerator, two double sinks, and counter space, at the Kitchen Cupboard.  Soon they’ll be running cooking classes that encourage their guests to cook healthier foods.  Vegetables from the garden will be used in some of these classes.  But Andrews’s vision doesn’t stop with the cooking classes.  She plans to have the participants and volunteers sit down together and eat what they just cooked.

“Eating together is so profound,” said Andrews.  “We call it ‘radical hospitality.’ It means sitting down together with people you wouldn’t normally sit with.”  Andrews loves to think about ways to create a sense of community in the neighborhood served by the Kitchen Cupboard.  “The vast majority of our people come to the Cupboard on foot.”  If you’ve cooked and eaten with someone you’ll probably be more likely to talk to them when you meet on the street.  You might even be willing to help them out or allow them to help you out.  Living in a community that cares can make a huge difference in one’s quality of life.  Can cooking classes and shared meals help to create a true community?  Andrews believes it’s a small step that’s worth a try.

Andrews also oversees an annual “Empty Bowl” fundraising project.  During the year groups throughout the community make soup bowls in school classrooms, nursing homes, and child care centers.  Then local restaurants and the Kitchen Cupboard make soup.  People come to the event and buy the bowl and the soup, and all proceeds go to the Kitchen Cupboard.  It’s a way of raising money, but it’s also a way of raising awareness, of getting community members “to think about food and hunger,” which is another part of Andrews’ overall mission.

Andrews knows that hunger is part of the larger picture of poverty.  She works as executive director for the Greater Bennington Interfaith Community, a nonprofit organization that runs a free health clinic using volunteer doctors and nurses.  She hopes to add volunteer mental health professionals and a free dental clinic in the future.  And after that, who knows where her vision and passion for helping people will take her?

Andrews said she loves her job. “I love working with people, I love looking at the BIG picture, and I love feeding people.”

To learn more about how the Vermont Foodbank works with 270 network partners, check out this infographic of the Vermont charitable food system.  To find a food shelf near you, visit our agency locator.