JFS strives to provide meaningful opportunities for volunteers to connect with the community in a variety of ways. Through these opportunities, JFS brings people together to find creative solutions to social problems and promotes positive and sustainable change in our community.
The JFS FarmHelp Initiative is an example of this kind of opportunity.
FarmHelp is a program designed to connect local food producers with food banks, pantries, and soup kitchens in order to maximize food security efforts in our community. The FarmHelp Initiative aims to mitigate food loss and, in the process, support food banks, pantries, and farmers in coming together to serve their local community.
Historically, large quantities of food grown in local farms are wasted due to weather conditions, a lack of storage space, or uncertain market demands. FarmHelp utilizes a farm to pantry platform for farmers across Massachusetts to come together to serve their community, and ensure that excess produce from farms is not wasted.
The JFS FarmHelp Initiative has been spearheaded by JFS Intern Akshara Shankar, who started with JFS in June 2020. Below is Akshara’s own account of this important initiative.

“My mind had been churning about an issue I had encountered while volunteering at a food pantry. It had been my first inkling that food insecurity remains a thorny issue even in a country of plenty like ours. Pantries, mostly run by volunteers, often find it challenging to find the right kind of donations. Donations are random: there are too much of certain items while too little of others. People are willing to donate, but they don’t always know how or what. So, I decided to create a web platform to connect pantries and potential donors–And so, began manyhandsfoodpantry.com.

Convincing pantries that this was an idea worth pursuing and assuring potential donors that there was no compulsion to donate was not easy. I aimed to create an interactive, free platform that would allow donors to register and get notifications and a way for pantries to update their needs regularly. After several months, 22 pantries were on the website and hundreds of donors. What started in my freshman year took on a more prominent role in the last year. With Covid-19, pantries were deluged with requests and I knew I had to do more. Through the website and social media, I conducted large-scale drives for hard-hit communities, enlisting classmates’ help and driving several hours a day to collect and deliver the items.


When my website and work was featured on CBS-Boston in April 2020, I received a call from Mr. Covarrubias from Jewish Family Service (JFS) of Metrowest offering a potential internship to work on a similar project for them. I put together a project proposal to create an empowering farm to pantry website platform to connect food producers with food banks and pantries. Over the summer of 2020, I then worked on the website www.farmtopantryhelp.com.

The whole point of the FarmHelp initiative is to mitigate food loss and, in the process, also help food banks/pantries who are working to alleviate hunger. Historically, large quantities of food grown in local farms are wasted due to lack of storage space, weather, uncertain market demand, are considered overaged or because they are unappealing to the eye. FarmHelp aims to ensure that the excess produce is well utilized.

Getting the initiative on the road was a lot harder than I thought it was going to be. To start with, I put together a list of 20 farms with their emails and phone numbers all within a 20 miles radius of Framingham. After some early hiccups, a silver lining came in the form of Silverwood Organic Farm in Sherborn. I had volunteered at the farm the previous year and they were willing to come on board to be a regular donor of excess produce.

After almost a month, I was able to get seven farms on board. It was a lot easier to get food pantries on board through the connections I had built with ManyHands. Over the course of the summer, I was able to do more than 15 farm to pantry drives with the help of the Neighborhood Farm and Silverwood Organic farm. Each week I would text them to ask if they had extra produce. On their confirmation, I would check with food pantries that needed them. I would then head over to the farm, pick up the produce, and drop it off at the food pantry. We worked with the following pantries: Hopkinton Food Pantry, Franklin Food Pantry, Open Table in Maynard, Loaves and Fishes Food Pantry, A Place To Turn, and Holliston Pantry Shelf.

It has been a great experience working on this initiative with JFS who supported and encouraged me throughout the journey. It has been so fulfilling to be able to deliver fresh produce to pantries and helping families in need. I am so excited to continue this project this spring as the farms start to re-open!”

In the near future, JFS will be looking for students who are interested in helping with the FarmHelp Initiative! Opportunities could include– coordinating farm-to-pantry pick-ups, contacting and adding more farms to the FarmHelp family, and thinking of additional ways to help more food pantries receive fresh produce donations!

Please contact Gail Gregory, Manager Volunteer Services and Community Engagement at ggregory@jfsmw.org for more information about these and other opportunities