My volunteer experience with the Daily Table on Sun, Oct 13, 2019.
Affordable and Healthy
I first learned about the Daily Table through a job listing posted on the MIT Sloan Career Central Page back when I was a student in 2017. I believe at the time they were looking for someone to lead their Operations Department. I really liked the concept behind the name.
Daily Table: Mission Statement
At Daily Table, we believe that delicious, wholesome and affordable food should be available to all. We are on a mission to help communities make great choices around food by making it easy for them to choose tasty, healthy, convenient and truly affordable meals and groceries. And we do this in a respectful manner that honors our customer, engendering dignity. https://dailytable.org/about-us/our-story/
I did not apply for the job since I planned to forge my own path in life after graduation, but the concept always resonated with me so when I saw the volunteer opportunity on the Boston Cares website, I thought it was a great chance to learn firsthand if the store really works. Here is what I signed up to do:
“Daily Table receives donations of surplus produce that must be sorted and organized for quality assurance. Volunteers will sort through donations and triage produce for use in the commissary kitchen, for sale on the floor, and for composting. Our business model of selling produce and grocery items in addition to prepared meals leaves us with many possible uses for food, but also requires careful hands-on processing. Volunteers may also help in the kitchen with food preparation, packaging, and labeling, or preparing and distributing samples in our engagement zone. Plan to be busy and on your feet! Volunteers will help to address the wastefulness of our food system and will be actively contributing to increasing food security and improving diets in Boston. “
When I arrived at the Daily Table in Dorchester, I was greeted by the smiling face of team member Taliah. She was kind enough to educate me on “the ways” of the Table. Foremost, we must sort all incoming donations to make sure no product has over 20 grams of sugar per serving. If it does, it will go to other organizations that can use the item such as local homeless shelters. They really want to offer healthy products to the community, but want to make sure nothing goes to waste. In addition, any produce that is no longer “sellable” goes into a compost bin.
I also checked expiration dates and stocked the shelves with acceptable products. If a product was coming up on its due date, it would go on the “specials” table and priced at .50 or .99 cents depending upon if it was one or two days away from the expiration date. I was there on Oct 13, so if an item expires on that date, towards the end of the day it would go on a free table. I asked Taliah if she gets many people who come in towards the end of the day for these free items and the answer was a definite yes.
The lovely lady with a Church Hat
I also stocked shelves on my own which I took seriously. I wanted to make sure everything looked great for the patrons but while I was doing this; it was my chance to look around and see if this truly was a store for all.
I saw so many people coming into this store, and it did not matter their age or skin color. I think I saw over 300 people come into this petite-sized store on my 3-hour shift. I saw a razor-thin older man, accompanied by his caring daughter. He was hunting for a tasty already prepared dinner that would help nourish his frail bones. I tried to avoid a young mother with a screaming child who found some great fresh produce for her family. She had less luck trying to quiet her vocal son. I also noticed a super buff thirty-something guy who looked like he had just come from the gym. He picked up a large container of yogurt I just placed on the .99 specials table. Everyone likes a bargain. I then glanced up to see a fabulously dressed woman walking over to me. She was in her finest Sunday church suit with a gorgeous matching hat. She really looked like the queen mother. She was looking for an item that was here last week but she could not find it now. I called Taliah over to help, but it was to no avail, the item was not in stock.
Besides taking in the cornucopia of faces and frames of the store patrons, I noticed they all had one thing in common; they were all extremely price-conscious. Everyone looked at the price of any item before buying it. If they felt it was too much, they did not buy it. I told Taliah that I heard a few people mention that some prices had gone up just recently. She told me prices sometimes go up. It takes trucks to get the produce there, and when gas costs more, prices must increase. Even though the Daily Table is a 501c3, it has expenses to pay so it can stay in “business” for the community.
Team members also get to set the prices on the incoming donated products. This is an impressive, empowering concept since they know the patrons better than everyone else and know what the community can afford. Even though this store offers food at considerably lower prices than any other store in the area, people who live on a fixed income watch closely what they spend. It was a real eye-opener for me, and I feel the knowledge I gained was worth just a few hours of my time. The best part of these experiences is not what I am giving, but what I am learning.
BTW, the lovely woman I met would like to see the price on the very tasty fish cakes with rice go down back down from $2.99 to $1.99. 🙂
Daily Table is always looking for volunteers and donations. Please visit their website to learn more. https://dailytable.org/get-involved/