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BRATTLEBORO — Foodworks, the Groundworks-run community resource in Brattleboro, has increased its storage capacity while transforming the shopping experience at the new Canal Street location where shoppers are invited to pick up the food they need for free.

Food Connects - an entrepreneurial non-profit that delivers locally produced food as well as educational and consulting services - visited the location last month to participate in a trauma- and food-focused community of practice with a group of Groundworks staff. The group was formed as a result of the Food and Trauma Training that Food Connects put on last spring, in collaboration with Equity Solutions, and their takeaways from the training are present throughout the new community resource.

After checking in at the reception desk, shoppers can grab a cart or basket and walk the isles of food. Clear signage guides shoppers throughout the experience and indicates which items are limited.

Shortly after their arrival, Ava Howard, the Foodworks assistant, pulled around back with a delivery of frozen meats, fresh produce, and cakes. As the team lent a hand unloading the truck they learned more about the decisions that went into creating a sensitive and welcoming space.

Food placement is one area where some changes accompanied the move. While the desserts, which are limited to one per household per month, used to be located at the entrance, fresh produce now greets shoppers entering the store — items that are available to everyone and a healthy staple.

"We tried to organize the space so that weekly items are the most easily accessible and monthly items are somewhat hidden," Christine Colascione, the Foodworks coordinator, said. "Now, weekly shoppers don't have to feel bad walking past items they can't access."

The registration process was streamlined so it's easier to get in and get the food community members need.

A staff member is always at the registration desk, ensuring that shoppers can count on a familiar face to greet them when they enter. "Changing [registration] from a volunteer role to a staff-only role is one of the biggest changes we made in an attempt to be more trauma-informed." Colascione said. "Having this be a staff-only role has allowed much more consistency, familiarity, and comfort for patrons." At check-out, another staff member or volunteer helps shoppers bag their food and answers any questions they may have.

It's these little changes that the Foodworks staff have found make a big difference when welcoming the community.

Being upfront about expectations at registration and explaining the rationale behind the rules has led to a common understanding, according to Foodworks. Altering hours so that donation pick-ups could be finished by the time Foodworks opens means that shoppers can rely on a more consistent experience and food selection each time they visit.

Overall, Colascione has received mainly positive feedback. Shoppers have credited the waiting room, improved lighting, improved parking, and increased space as big improvements that have led to an experience more akin to your typical grocery store.

Along with comfy chairs and a little library, the waiting room has space for food demonstrations and tastings.

Foodworks is looking for volunteers to put on demonstrations highlighting the produce available on the shelves and also be a source of knowledge for shoppers looking for cooking advice. Colascione also noted that food donations are low this time of year and welcomes shelf stable items as well as garden produce.

You don't need to be experiencing homelessness to shop at Foodworks. Swing by during open hours and talk to a staff member to learn more about how to access this community resource. With all these changes, the goal has been to eliminate stigma about accessing Foodworks.

Foodworks is located at 141 Canal St. and can be reached at 802-490-2412. The hours are: Monday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Tuesday, noon to 2 p.m. for seniors, 2 to 4 p.m. for everyone; Wednesday, 1 to 6 p.m.; Friday noon to 4 p.m.; last Saturday of the month, 9 a.m. to noon.

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