DeAnne Dupont, Food Link cofounder in her element. / Carla DeFord photoDeAnne Dupont, Food Link cofounder, in her element. 

About four years ago, two moms of Minuteman High School students discovered that local cafes and grocery stores were throwing away food that was slightly too old to be sold in their establishments. Dedicated recyclers, the two were convinced that any still-usable food ought to be given to people who need it. 


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That’s how Food Link was born. Today the organization collects more than 1, 000 pounds of food a day, seven days a week, from more than 15 donors and distributes it to about 25 community agencies.

In June, DeAnne Dupont, one of the cofounders of this flourishing nonprofit, learned that she had been named Arlington Chamber of Commerce Citizen of the Year. The honor, to be conferred publicly in October, came as a surprise to her, but anybody who has watched Dupont load the capacious Food Link van with dozens of boxes of comestibles, drive it to 117 Broadway, which also houses the Food Pantry, then unload and organize its contents while supervising the work of several volunteers would immediately understand why she’s being recognized as an exemplary citizen.

On what seemed to be a slow weekend day for Food Link, I chatted with Dupont and managed to cover a fair amount of territory before she got a call from a retailer to pick up food.

At that point, Dupont sprang into action, with her interviewer tagging along as a last-minute volunteer.

Tell me about how Food Link got started.

In the spring of 2012 Julie Kremer and I were participating in a Minuteman Parent Association fund-raiser, and we had requested desserts from one of the Panera cafes. When Julie went to pick up the desserts, she found out that on most nights they were throwing their bread away. We knew that Panera had a very robust charitable program called “Dough-Nations,” but found out there were not enough nonprofits taking advantage of it.

So Julie called me and said, "DeAnne, we need to do something about this," and I agreed. At that point we began picking up the food, thinking we would figure out where to take it later on. We started out with about 24 loaves of bread, five dozen bagels and 40 pastries.


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What happened next?

We began calling Panera each night to see whether they had an organization scheduled to pick up their food, and if they didn’t, we’d go and get it. I happened to know someone who lives at Drake Village [senior housing], so I contacted her, and we began delivering there.

Where else does the food go?

Sixty to 70 percent of the food we collect stays in Arlington. We serve senior citizens at three Housing Authority facilities and the Senior Center.
We also serve children and families through the Arlington EATS and Thompson School programs, Fidelity House, Menotomy Manor, the Arlington Food Pantry and the Boys and Girls Club.

In addition, we serve young people through two youth-assistance programs and the Youth Villages Germaine Lawrence Campus. (See complete list of Arlington recipients below.)

What kinds of food-safety precautions do you take?

Volunteer Gail McCormick, left, lends DeAnne Dupont a hand at Food Link headquarters.Volunteer Gail McCormick, left, lends Dupont a hand at Food Link headquarters.

We meet the standards of the Arlington Department of Health. One way we do that is to get perishable items into thermal bags with gel packs or under thermal blankets and then into refrigerators as quickly as possible. We currently have five refrigerators; two were acquired by the Food Pantry, with which we share space, one was donated and two are on loan from a Food Link volunteer.
We also have guidelines from our retailers that tell us how long their products will be good beyond their sell-by date, and we do visual observation. If in doubt, we throw it out -- and compost or recycle as much as possible.

Who are your food donors?

They include Panera, Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, and others. (See complete list of donors below.)

What’s in it for the donors?

The stores receive an enhanced tax deduction that reflects not just the cost of the food, but a part of the difference between their cost and their retail price, which can be substantial. Also, the employees feel good about seeing that food is not going to waste, and the companies can get some publicity about providing people with healthful food, which shows they’re good neighbors.

The Food Link van gets ready for an Arlington run.The Food Link van gets ready for an Arlington run .

How were you able to acquire your new van?

In March 2015 the Boston Area Gleaners donated a van to us. It was about 32 years old at the time, and we thought we would get a year or two out of it, but after we had it about six months, it broke down and wasn’t repairable. We then put a notice in our newsletter saying we needed a new van, and we received two large donations: one from an anonymous individual and one from the BNY Mellon/Arthur F. Blanchard Trust. In December we set up a display at the library, which also led to some significant contributions. (See list of sponsors below.)
As a result, we were able to buy a new Ford Transit van. This is a great asset that will last us 20 years. It makes collecting and distributing food so much easier. With our logo printed on the side, it also helps give us identity.

What’s happening with your building?

The [Broadway] building is owned by the Housing Corporation of Arlington, and it’s our understanding that it will be demolished in 2017 and rebuilt within a year. The first floor will be commercial space, which will include the Food Pantry and possibly Food Link along with another retail establishment; the upper floors will be affordable housing.

We would like to stay in this location, because it’s accessible to the organizations we work with, but we do not know whether we will be able to afford the rent. The best situation for us would be to have a space next to, but separate from, the Food Pantry with some flexibility as to how the space is used. We are currently looking for a temporary location to house Food Link while 117 Broadway is being rebuilt. (Learn more below.)

Tell me about your volunteers.

They’re fantastic; I can't say enough wonderful things about them. We now have between 80 and 90 volunteers, and we are very flexible in both our scheduling and our ability to accommodate different skills and limitations. Some people volunteer once a month; others three times a week. Several of our volunteers are Food Pantry clients; they really like to give back.

The Food Link motto is "rescue food, nourish our community." How do you do the latter?

One way is by providing work for participants in programs that offer job training, such as the Eliot Community Services/Young Adult Vocational Program in Arlington; the Walnut Street Center in Somerville, which serves developmentally challenged adults; and the Douglas House in Lexington, which works with people who have acquired brain injuries.

Another way is through our deliveries to Drake Village and Cusack Terrace. At each facility, they have formed a group that sorts the food we bring, creating their own minipantry. The groups allow people to socialize who wouldn’t normally spend time together.

How do you organize the food you receive?

We know our recipients, and we have lists of how much and what type of food to provide. For example, on Mondays in the summer the Boys and Girls Club needs two boxes of fresh fruit, three loaves of bread, yogurt, pizza, a gallon of milk and a dozen eggs. There are other things we send if we receive them.

At the club, they like to tell the story that after Food Link began making deliveries, the children started to behave and learn better, and the staff became happier because the children were happier. Before we got involved, parents might give their children a dollar to get food out of the vending machines, and the club made money from those purchases. Now the board of the club is proud that they’re making less money from the vending machines, because we’re providing so much nutritious food.

Tell me about your recycling and composting efforts.

We recycle the large plastic bags that Panera uses for bread as well as Styrofoam and rigid plastic. We have several of our own composters, and we also have access to Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s industrial composting.

Quote bar, red "The doorbell rang, and when I answered it, several Chamber of Commerce representatives were outside with balloons. I started crying."       -- DeAnne Dupont

What was your reaction to winning the Chamber of Commerce award?

I was very surprised. On the day I was told I had received the award, my son who lives in Seattle happened to be here, and both my sons were in on the secret, so they made sure I didn’t leave the house too early. The doorbell rang, and when I answered it, several Chamber of Commerce representatives were outside with balloons. I started crying.

What’s your connection to Louisiana?

I grew up in New Orleans and went to college in Lafayette. I go back to visit at least twice a year. Also, I have an (almost) annual crawfish party to which I invite a lot of friends and some of the volunteers I work with directly. I have boiled crawfish shipped up overnight, and I make red beans and rice, gumbo, and barbecued shrimp. People bring their favorite dish, so we have a huge variety of food from different ethnicities.

What did you do before you started Food Link?

After college, I became an air-traffic controller, and I did that for about four years. Then I decided to become a CPA. I have a bachelor’s degree in mathematics, and then I took coursework at University of Louisiana at Lafayette to become a CPA, and later I earned a master’s in taxation at Bentley University.

How do you use your CPA experience in the work you do with Food Link?

I love numbers, so I wanted to keep and track data, which is helpful with reporting requirements. We got our 501 (c) (3) nonprofit status in September 2014, and we have to file reports for income and expenses. Next year we’ll be getting new software that will enable us to track the food we deliver by category, such as produce, bread, and meat. Foundations and granting organizations really want this data, and we like it, too. It helps us measure our results.

What does your family think of your work with Food Link?

I think they’re proud of it. When I was in the corporate world, I worked very long hours. Now I’m around more. I retired in 2009, and I still do some consulting in the corporate financial-services sector.

What do you see as the future of Food Link?

I see it as having very controlled growth with more staffing. The cofounders are still too involved. It’s better now that we’ve hired an operations director, but we need more assistance. We’d like to do better outreach to the agencies we serve, and if other communities want to create something similar to Food Link, we’d like to be able to be a resource for them.

What’s in your future?

I would like to be able to travel more to see friends and family. For me, Food Link is a full-time, unpaid position. I give a lot to the organization, but I get a lot out of it as well. In working with the volunteers, recipients, and donors, I’ve developed incredible relationships.

Then the phone rang. It was Trader Joe’s calling, and once again Dupont was off to the rescue – of food.

WHO GIVES FOOD

Whole Foods, Arlington and Medford

Trader Joe’s, Arlington and Burlington

Panera Bread, Cambridge, Burlington, Lexington, Woburn, and Medford

Russo’s, Watertown

Prime Butcher, Arlington

La Patisserie, Winchester

Something Sweet Without Wheat, Arlington

Neighborhood Farm, Needham

WHO RECEIVES FOOD (in Arlington)

Arlington Boys and Girls Club

Arlington EATS

Arlington Food Pantry - Broadway and Marathon Street locations

Arlington Housing Authority Residences: Chestnut Manor, Cusack Terrace, Drake Village, and Menotomy Manor

Arlington Senior Center

Eliot Community Services/ Young Adult Vocational Program

Fidelity House

Thompson School Snack Program

Wayside Youth and Family/STEPS program

Youth Villages Germaine Lawrence Campus

Boston Area Gleaners

Various CSA (community-supported agriculture) organizations

For a list of all distribution locations, click here >> 

SPONSORS, GRANTORS

BNY Mellon/Arthur F. Blanchard Trust

The Lenny Zakim Fund

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts Foundation

Bushrod H. Campbell and Adah F. Hall Charity Fund

Arlington Community Block Grant

Greater Boston Real Estate Board Foundation

Bowes Real Estate Home Advantage Team

Cambridge Savings Bank

Sustainable Arlington

First Parish Unitarian Universalist Church of Arlington

New England Grassroots Environmental Fund

Project Bread

East Cambridge Savings Bank

The Flatbread Company

Watertown Savings Bank

Leader Bank 

Food Pantry, Food link seek temporary homes

Pam Hallett, executive director of the Housing Corporation of Arlington, which owns 117 Broadway, home of the Food Pantry and Food Link, is encouraging both to find new quarters in the event the current building is torn down.

That may happen later next year -- if the HCA's plans proceed.

"It is our hope that in late 2017 the building will be demolished and the new building construction started," Hallett wrote in an email Friday, Aug. 5. "However, that assumes a lot of things." She noted the ifs:

-- That the HCA gains approval for a special permit "expeditiously";

-- That the community doesn't come up with significant issues; and

-- That all the funding falls into place quickly, and because federal and state funds are involved, "we just never know."

Applications for a special permit and zoning variance are being prepared.

She wrote that the Food Pantry is talking to churches about available space during construction, and she has encouraged Food Link to have those same conversations.

A community meeting will be scheduled for late August or early September to discuss the HCA's proposal for the site.


June 6, 2016: Chamber names Food Link cofounder Citizen of Year

Food Link

For information about how to become a Food Link volunteer, click here >>


This profile by YourArlington contributing writer Carla DeFord was published Monday, Aug. 8, 2016.