Jeni Wheeler with the Family Table Collaborative, right, and Antonia Stephens, the Hyannis Public Library director, restock the new refrigerator on Thursday just inside the door of the library at 401 Main St. in Hyannis. The fridge holds free fresh fruit, salads and zip-closed sandwiches for anyone who needs a pre-made meal or snack. Photo by Steve Heaslip, Cape Cod Times
Cape Cod Times, August 11, 2023
HYANNIS — For more than a century, the Hyannis Public Library has stood on Main Street, half a block from the village green, offering residents and passersby a free, open space where they can devour a good book. This summer, on the back of a clever partnership with Family Table Collaborative, they’ve begun to offer something else for people to devour, free of charge: a fresh, nutritious meal.
“It’s so exciting,” Family Table Collaborative director Jeni Wheeler nearly shouted Monday, while library Executive Director Antonia Stephens jumped up and down next to her. “We’re a match made in heaven.”
Since the project launched last week, the collaborative has supplied fresh, pre-made meals and snacks to a community fridge in the library, which library staff pairs with educational materials on good nutrition.
“We want to teach nutritional literacy as a basic life skill,” Stephens said Monday, holding a container of ceviche she’d gotten from the fridge.
The Family Table Collaborative already provides healthy meals for those in need at various places around the Cape, but where the library comes in is one of the most important variables: location. Hyannis Public Library, at 401 Main St., is open six days a week, until as late as 7 p.m. on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and it is close to areas where people who may be experiencing food insecurity tend to congregate, as Stephens observed. In many ways, she said, it’s the ideal place to keep a communal fridge well-stocked with fresh fruit, salads and zip-closed sandwiches.
Wheeler said the pair drew inspiration from the Crop Swap fridge at the Provincetown Public Library, where since 2019, the library has allowed people to donate fresh produce as they’re able, and take as they need. Wheeler said the project gave them the idea to do the same in Barnstable, but with meals rather than whole produce.
“The cost of living here on the Cape is significantly higher than the mean,” Stephens said. “So food insecurity affects a vastly greater number of people than folks tend to realize.” It’s not just about being able to eat, Stephens said, but being able to eat nutritious, complete meals, which are often more expensive than unhealthy fast food. Putting these free meals in a prominent place, she hopes, will help allay that issue.
Wheeler said she has been glad to see the positive reception the initiative has gotten in its first week, some of which ended up coming in handy. Midnight Our, a seafood delivery company based in Harwich, loaned the Family Table Collaborative its refrigerated truck, she said, so they could pick up leftover food from the Provincetown finish line of last weekend’s Pan Mass Challenge. They ended up picking up two tons of food, Wheeler said. The food, she said, was perfectly good to
stock the community fridge, and would have just ended up in the trash.
Stephens said Monday that she hopes the partnership will inspire more community fridges across the Cape.“It’s all about meeting people where they’re at,” she said. “Being the hub to connect people with information and good food.”