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Community Meals To Go taking shape in Peterborough

  • Grappelli’s Pizza is one of several Peterborough restaurants participating in Meals To Go. Staff photo by Ben Conant

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 1/18/2021 4:45:39 PM

It was an idea just crazy enough to work – and one that already had.

Unbeknownst to Paul Tuller, there was a program called Everyone Eats in Vermont that began in August as a way to feed local families and help struggling restaurants, all in one community effort. Tuller had never heard of it, but he had the exact same idea and brought it to the attention of Karen Hatcher. The two knew each other from the Cornucopia Project, as Tuller serves on the board and Hatcher previously served as the organization’s executive director.

“I didn’t consciously know that there was another one out there,” Tuller said. “I just thought it was a good idea.”

Tuller had long worried about the effect COVID-19 was having on food insecurity in the region and in the much the same way, worried about restaurants surviving through the winter months that took away the ability to offer outside dining. So why not see if they could give the local eating establishments some business with the food then going to those in need of a meal.

For Hatcher, her interest was immediate. She started making some calls to local food pantries and social service organizations, learned about the program in Brattleboro from the folks who ran it and thought it just might work.

“I kept thinking is there a way to support our restaurants and our community,” Hatcher said, who started the Restaurant Bingo initiative in Peterborough at the end of 2020. “Because this could actually solve two problems at the same time.”

To get the program, coined Community Meals To Go, off the ground, Hatcher set a goal to raise $50,000 to fund the program for 16 weeks and so far, it has turned out better than could be expected. Hatcher said last week, the program received a big boost from Grand Monadnock Rotary in the form of a $10,000 donation. On Friday, Hatcher said they were able to secure a $5,000 grant from the NH Charitable Foundation and along with other private donation, the total raised through Monday stood at $20,600.

“Announcing the $10,000 commitment from the Grand Monadnock Rotary Club really jump-started our fundraising and helped get us to 40% of our goal straightaway,” Hatcher said. “This donation reflects Rotary’s long-term commitment to our community and we hope it inspires other organizations and businesses to follow their lead.”

The way it works is that the funds are used to purchase a set number of meals – for $10 each – from local restaurants on a certain night of the week. Hatcher said to start, the plan is to distribute 100 meals, twice a week. The restaurants will sign up to make anywhere from 25 to 100 meals on one of those nights and then will be distributed on a first-come, first-serve basis at a designated location in Peterborough.

“We’ll see what the demand is,” Hatcher said about the possibility of expanding or extending past the four months. “Ramping up may take us some time. This is a keep it simple model initially to get it right. But if the need still persists and the support is there, we’ll continue.”

The meals will be either cold or frozen, which will avoid the need to have the equipment at the distribution point to keep the meals hot. The restaurants will make the meals in bulk, allowing them to streamline the costs to one set of ingredients. Hatcher said if a restaurant wants to make all 100 meals for one night, the idea will be that there is two different versions.

“They will tell us how many nights a week and how many meals they want to cook,” Hatcher said.

Hatcher said that she has agreements with Cooper’s Hill Public House, Nonie’s and Aesop’s in Peterborough for prepared meals. Grappelli’s Pizza will provide gift certificates as another option for program participants.

“I want to support all the restaurants who feel like they need the support,” she said. “But you really want it to have an impact for them, too.”

While prior to the coronavirus pandemic there were many options to get a meal through various church and community suppers, that number has dwindled since March with only the Union Congregational Church offering a meal to go on Monday nights. So the thought is to pick nights between Tuesday and Thursday, when restaurants might not be as busy and can handle the extra duty.

As the community and economic development coordinator for the town of Peterborough, Hatcher is always concerned about businesses staying open during this time of COVID-19, especially the restaurants.

“How will our restaurants survive the winter?” Hatcher said was a constant thought. “Most of our restaurants are limping along. Some have adapted well, while others it hasn’t been easy.”

As of now, the goal is to begin the program the first week of February with the bulk of the fundraising taking place between now and then. Hatcher said there is a meeting on Tuesday to discuss outreach and distribution. The program has also been nominated as one of three finalists for the 100+ Women Who Care Monadnock quarterly grant recipient.

The Peterborough Fire and Rescue Association, The Cornucopia Project, The River Center and The Peterborough Food Pantry are among the groups adding guidance, ideas and labor to the effort. Churches, service organizations, and businesses are also being asked to help fundraise and rally volunteers.

“We really need the community to support it,” Hatcher said. “I think we can do a good job if we do it together.”

Hatcher said there is no registration or verification involved. It’s merely meant to help those affected by the pandemic.

“If you’ve been impacted and are struggling and need a meal, come get a meal,” she said. “This is really for the community and there’s no judgement. It comes from a place of caring.”

For Tuller, his first and only call was to Hatcher. He credits her with being the one who got the ball rolling.

“The idea is easy to come up with, but that’s not what makes it happen,” he said.

For more and to donate, visit https://donorbox.org/peterborough-community-meals-to-go. For questions, email community@peterboroughnh.gov.

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

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