This year, as much of Rhode Island ground to a halt, local wholesale distributor Roch’s Fresh Foods has sprung into action as a key cog in Rhode Island’s COVID response. Partnering with the state for an initial fresh food delivery service and with Family Service’s Be Safe Plus program, Roch’s has leveraged their expertise to keep vulnerable Rhode Islanders fed and safe. For Roch’s, this new initiative has gone far beyond an ordinary expansion of business. Instead, it’s been an opportunity for a business that has thrived in Rhode Island for almost a century to lift up their own community.
Just like many other businesses, the shuttering of the state’s restaurants and economy after the COVID outbreak left a void in demand for Roch’s services. However, as demand from the restaurants and large institutions that made up Roch’s ordinary customer base shrank, a whole new need for home delivery in the community arose. Partnering with Be Safe Plus to get fresh food and essential goods to vulnerable populations and seniors meant that Roch’s could keep their operations ramped up. This in turn kept all stops on Roch’s supply chain going at full speed, from employees to local vendors.
Logistically, Roch’s infrastructure and expertise translated instantly to Be Safe Plus. Sourcing food, packing boxes, and optimizing delivery were tasks that could be done using the existing wholesale distribution framework. Tapping into Roch’s food supply sources quickly and efficiently was essential. In a time-sensitive situation, this expertise was what got the urgently needed Be Safe Plus delivery boxes off of the drawing board and onto people’s doorsteps.
While the virus has hit all parts of society hard, for vulnerable populations such as seniors, the virus meant that many were confined to their homes for weeks and months at a time. Be Safe Plus was a way for Roch’s to provide these specific populations with much needed food, and perhaps even more importantly, solidarity and care in a time of suffocating isolation.
While this aspect of the program – interacting with individual customers rather than big entities – has been new for Roch’s, they have embraced it wholeheartedly. Company President Ray Roch describes it as “an honor for Roch's Fresh Foods to team up with the Be Safe program during these challenging times. Food security and accessibility is extremely important during the COVID19 pandemic. We here at Roch's are proud to be part of the solution."
For those delivering, managing these personal interactions can be as simple as taking a moment to interact on a doorstep and check in on a senior’s day. Sometimes, it means scrambling to reroute deliveries on time to make sure seniors receive supplies even after a time or address is miscommunicated. For Roch’s, this new area of working with individuals isn’t just a challenge to overcome. Instead, it’s truly been an opportunity to make a tangible difference beyond the set bounds of food delivery. Almost everyone on the ground with Roch’s organizing and conducting deliveries has received phone calls from people receiving boxes. All are immensely grateful for both the boxes and also the opportunity to connect. Many Roch’s employees on the ground have developed relationships with those to which they deliver. For them, they recognize that their work transcends a simple drop off operation and instead is a part of a collective community response to crisis – a way to band together and face a challenge head on.
For the time being, the current conditions are the new normal. While we can hope for a return to the pre-virus world as soon as possible, in the meantime Be Safe Plus continues to be an example of collaborating to adapt and thrive no matter what the definition of normal may be.