This week’s edition of the Joy Beat comes from an All Things Considered listener who called in to nominate someone doing excellent work to better their community. Here’s Fred Andree’s nomination: “I volunteer at the West Roxbury food pantry run by a woman named Darra Slagle. She’s a fantastic person: great organizer, coordinates all the food, wrangles volunteers and does a great job at dealing with lots of people and makes everybody feel good about what they’re doing and gets the job done, feeding thousands of people every month.”
Slagle is the executive director of Rose’s Bounty, a food pantry in West Roxbury that strives to alleviate food insecurity and, per its mission statement, do so with “open hearts and helping hands.”
Darra joined GBH’s All Things Considered host Arun Rath to discuss her work with Rose’s Bounty. What follows is a lightly edited transcript.
Arun Rath: What was going through your head hearing that [nomination message]? Were you expecting that?
Darra Slagle: No! When you told me that somebody had nominated me, I had no idea who it would be.
Rath: So we could tell, just getting set up for this interview, you’re very busy with your work. Tell us a bit about Rose’s Bounty and the range of what you do.
Slagle: Well, Rose’s Bounty started seven years ago as a food pantry. We opened up two days a month to the public. At the time, we had no constraints of where people lived. We started to expand our programs when we realized that we were serving people that could come to us, but we wanted to make sure that we were getting food to people that couldn’t come to us.
We started to set ourselves three goals about who would be somebody that needed food that couldn’t come to our food pantry. We first started to identify students, so we partnered with Chittick Elementary School, and we send bags of food home over the weekend for a number of students that have been identified as food insecure. We make sure that they have food over the weekend.
We connected with the VA [Veteran’s Affairs], and we work with the HUD-VASH [Veteran’s Affairs Supportive Housing], which is the homeless and disabled veterans, and we serve them every Friday. We have one big pack a month for them also.
Then, we started — and this is what I call the silver lining of the pandemic, is that we were able to make this connection with Ethos, which is elder services for Southwest Boston. We’re serving 50 to 55 elderly, homebound neighbors that can’t come to our food pantry, so we pack and serve for them every week on Thursdays.
Rath: That’s brilliant. Tell us about the Rose of Rose’s Bounty, who this was named after.
Slagle: Rose was a parishioner at the Stratford Street United Church. She was the woman that always set up the coffee hours so that we could have coffee and conversation after church. She was a wonderful human being. And when she passed, her family donated money, and we were able to take that money and start Rose’s Bounty.
Rath: Wow. What a great, real material tribute. How many people, on average, would you say come to the food pantry each month?
Slagle: Between our two open pantry days, I would say we have well over 400 families, and those families served probably 700 [people] or so.
Rath: Wow. Hearing Fred talk about you, it sounds like you’re obviously inspired to do this work, but it seems like you have this ability to inspire others and make people feel good about getting that work done.
Slagle: That’s so wonderful. Well, you know, I feel like maybe I don’t see myself as other people do. I just come in and do what I can, and I don’t like a lot of light shined on me only because I feel like our volunteers are so fabulous. We have so many volunteers that are so dedicated and so passionate that I don’t want to take away from them. They’re really doing all the work.
Rath: What is it that motivates this passion? It’s not easy work that you’re doing.
Slagle: No, it isn’t. It’s very, very hard work. We were getting, you know, probably 13 to 14 pounds of food a week that comes into the food pantry, and it’s all going out, so there’s a lot of physical work.
There’s also, you know, there’s the emotional aspect of it too, that the people are coming in helping for the most part have big hearts. It’s hard to see this many people struggling.
Rath: Since you’ve been running the organization, you’ve also implemented a number of other programs in the community, right?
Slagle: Yes. I mentioned we have our homebound neighbor program, and we get an intake sheet for each person that needs food. It gives us an indication of the sort of things that they would be willing to accept, and then we just have to extrapolate with what we have and what they’ve indicated that they would like.
So we’ll pack up a nice box of fresh fruits and vegetables — that’s one of the things that we really try to do. We try to make sure that people get chicken, cheese, and lots of fresh fruits and vegetables because those tend to be the most expensive things at the supermarket. We really try to make sure we’re sending healthy things for people to cook and make at home.
So we have our homebound program, and the veteran program is run the same way; we have a sheet that indicates [what they want] and pack and deliver. That’s done with a combination of social workers and volunteers.
We have an adult day program that we support. There are two locations, and much like our children’s program, where we send kids home with food for the weekend, we’re sending food home with some adult day program folks. I think we’re at 92 folks now, so our numbers are pretty high.
Rath: How do you work to keep up with it? I mean, there’s been awful inflation with food prices in the last couple of years. Does it mean you just have to work that much harder?
Slagle: We get very creative. We partner with a couple of food rescue organizations and through donations. Obviously, we get food from the Greater Boston Food Bank; we’re a member of that. In fact, we get 11,000 pounds a week from Greater Boston Food Bank alone for our children’s program.
There’s a little offshoot of that that we do called Kids in the Kitchen, where we’re trying to inspire kids to not just grab something that’s quick but really get engaged in the cooking aspect of a meal in hopes to try to break out of that, what I noticed, is sort of a cyclical poverty. They tend to reach for the easy, quick things, so we’re trying to expand so that kids would be excited to be in the kitchen.
Feedback has been very positive, and we try to give them every single thing that they need to make that recipe each week.
Rath: You clearly bring a lot of joy to your community, as evidenced by your nomination. What brings you the most joy?
Slagle: Wow. That’s a really hard question. I think at the end of the day, I feel like I might have made a difference in somebody’s life; I might have made something just that little bit easier for them.
If you’d like to nominate someone or something for the Joy Beat, leave us a voicemail at 617-300-BEAT .