It started out small in late 2020 as a lethal coronavirus was sweeping across the country and wreaking havoc, but mid-2021 finds the popular Stretch Your Food Budget program flourishing, as more volunteers step forward to help Hull families and seniors make their food dollars go further.
Created by resident Dennis Zaia, the program offers, free of charge, five meal kit choices including macaroni and cheese, minestrone soup, Tex Mex chicken and rice, rice and beans, and apple cinnamon oatmeal, with more selections on the way.
From the outset, Hull’s Emergency Preparedness Coordinator Craig Wolfe has supplied the Outreach Program/End Hunger Now food packets that are the core of the SYFB meal kit program. The Outreach Program is a nonprofit corporation that organizes food packaging events across the United States, Canada, and other countries.
“Dennis took some of these and other food items and put them together in a lovely package to make delicious and nutritious meals,” Wolfe told The Hull Times. “It’s an awesome program.”
Wolfe also connected Zaia with the South Shore Community Action Council, which supplies many local food collection efforts. Through Wolfe’s introduction, Zaia volunteers one day a week at the SSCAC food pantry to learn more about the challenges and opportunities involved with feeding those facing food insecurity.
Zaia credits the contributions of volunteer team members Maria Turchinetz, Giana Cofman, Gianna Leonard, Jessica Labrie, and School Superintendent Judith Kuehn for taking the program to the next level.
“All of these women, each with their own special skills and areas of expertise, are working together to elevate the intentions and outcomes of SYFB to reach more folks in Hull who might like to have a meal kit in their kitchen pantry for those days when they cannot get to the grocery store, or when they aren’t feeling well enough to go shopping,” Zaia said.
Turchinetz, who helped get the program off the ground, assists with recipe development and cooking demonstrations, while Cofman created the brochure that is part of a Village Market display.
“Maria experimented with all kinds of shelf-stable food pantry products to come up with the SYFB recipes we are currently using,” Zaia said.
Leonard conducted a photo shoot of the meal kits and ingredients to help promote the program, while Jessica Labrie created Tik Tok videos demonstrating how to cook the meals.
Leonard and Labrie met Zaia when he participated in the recent townwide Stem to Stern yard sale in May, where a SYFB display was on view. “We got to talking, and I told him I was studying photography in school. He then started telling me about the SYFB program and how their website could use some updated pictures if I’d be willing to help out,” Leonard said. “I’ve always loved helping others and volunteering; I’ve been doing it for as long as I can remember.”
The Parrot owner Brian Houlihan helped the SYFB team figure out how to make the meal kit recipes more visually appealing. “His technical culinary skills were critical to developing the recipes for the meal kits,” according to Zaia.
In addition, he said, “Judy Kuehn’s support and encouragement have been invaluable, collecting feedback from school staff that helped to inform the moving-forward direction of the program as it exists today.”
The meal kits are distributed through Wellspring Multi-Service Center, the Hull Senior Center, and at Memorial Middle School for families whose children are eligible for the free- and reduced-cost breakfast and lunch program. Of Hull Public Schools’ 810 students, 34.8 percent, or about 281, are eligible.
“We are introducing some of our students to SYFB during our summer school program by cooking the meal kits with them,” Kuehn said. “This will give students an opportunity to taste the meals. If interested, they will be able to take meal kits home after experiencing the different options at school.”
Jason McCann, who got the SYFB website up and running, described the program as “amazing. The structure is great. Anyone can pick up the supplemental meals with no questions asked, no judgment, no stigma,” he said. “The food is tasty and very easy to prepare, and it’s a creative way to be both efficient and effective in helping to address food insecurity in Hull.”
For further details, visit www.syfb.space.