Hands on Hartford: One Year Later
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Hands Over Hartford
12 May 2017

In early 2016 KK&P was retained by Hands on Hartford (HOH) to create a best-use plan for its kitchen, cafe, and community space in their new Center for Community. Hands on Hartford – a non-profit that supports Hartford residents with a range of programs in the areas of food, housing, and economic security – had recently purchased and moved into a new headquarters equipped with a commercial kitchen and potential event space. KK&P developed a 5-pronged approach to maximizing that space in support of the organization’s mission. KK&P proposed that HOH consider year one of operations a “lab year” to try different approaches, remain nimble, and see what works.

The results were enthusiastic and dramatic. Executive Director Barbara Shaw told us, “We are deeply grateful to KK&P for taking the tiniest spark of an idea and working collaboratively with us and our neighbors to help grow those sparks into a vision afire.  The plan was comprehensive, reality-based, and well aligned with the needs of the community and with what makes HOH tick.”

“We are deeply grateful to KK&P for taking the tiniest spark of an idea and working collaboratively with us and our neighbors to help grow those sparks into a vision afire.”

One year later, HOH has successfully initiated roll-out of four of the five goals proposed by KK&P. Below is an update on some of their progress.

Goal 1: Cultivate the Cafe for Community Events

HOH is committed to engaging the community through partnership and collaboration, and their kitchen and cafe assets offer a venue for community programming and resources.

Summer 2016 officially kicked off community use of the HOH café and community areas, and established guidelines and pricing for use. Over the past 10 months many groups have taken advantage of the space (from faith based groups, non-profits, Hartford Foundation for Public Giving and other private parties). Several of these groups are having HOH’s Café at Fifty-five provide catering services.

Goal 2: Rental Use of Kitchen & Café Space

The kitchen and café space are tremendous assets for Hands On Hartford, for their own programming and for the community at large. By renting out the kitchen, Hands On Hartford can support food businesses and entrepreneurs by making commercial kitchen space available, as needed, at an hourly rate, and generate revenue to support kitchen and café programming.

Over the past year, HOH explored other shared use kitchens and chose to adapt Willimantic-based CLiCK’s model. HOH was able to establish shared use kitchen protocols, while satisfying city health department and zoning requirements.

In January 2017, HOH signed its first member, and there are now five shared use kitchen members with additional members in the exploratory process.

Goal 3: Add Value to Foods for Distribution through Community Food Pantry

HOH’s commercial kitchen access so close to their food pantry distribution site gives them an opportunity to leverage its kitchen space to offer a new range of fresh, healthy, and convenient foods for its community food pantry clients, while working to minimize food insecurity.

HOH opted to focus their initial efforts on cut and packaged fruits and vegetables. Over the past year, they have received three (3) grants in support of this initiative. New produce sourcing avenues are still being explored, and thus far, feedback has been very positive from community members. HOH plans to expand their raised garden beds
this year to contribute to the project.

Goal 4: Create a Community Café

From the beginning of this process, Hands On Hartford has expressed passion and vision for the idea of a bustling and active café as the anchor use of the café space. The café was intended as a community hub, offering healthy and appealing food at prices accessible to most people.

The Café at Fifty-Five opened to the public on October 3rd, 2016, with chef Helen Colon as the café manager. The café continues to refine and revise its process and offerings, and has been catering events at Hands on Hartford. With this goal, HOH further anchors itself (with and via the café) into the social fabric of the Parkville neighborhood and Hartford as a whole.

It’s been an impressively productive and highly experimental year for Hands on Hartford. KK&P is honored to have supported them in developing an approach to maximizing their new home-base, and we celebrate their ongoing successes.