Orange Peel provides groceries for the Aquinnah community

Juli Vanderhoop transitions from bakery to bodega in order to get people the food they need.

Orange Peel Bakery has been transformed from a bakery into a bodega. - Gabrielle Mannio

Orange Peel Bakery is selling groceries to folks up-Island who either don’t want to travel all the way to a supermarket or are worried about the possibility of infection.

Aquinnah community member, chair of the board of selectmen, and food professional Juli Vanderhoop said, “We are doing all that we can to provide for this community. My goal hasn’t changed, but my reach has expanded.”

According to Vanderhoop, she started the initiative once the pandemic began to affect local businesses, including grocery stores. She was concerned for her elderly mother, and neighbors who are less ambulatory, or cannot leave their homes because they are immunocompromised or live with someone who is.

“I haven’t been to a supermarket since March. I started to do this, and had no hesitation or doubt that I could accomplish feeding some of those families who need it most,” Vanderhoop said.

The effort began with her family and extended family, but the need was ever-present in town, and Vanderhoop said she was more than happy to fill that need. So far, Vanderhoop said, she is feeding more than 60 up-Island families by selling them groceries from her bakery location. Instead of driving to Cronig’s or Stop & Shop, some up-Islanders have been pulling up at the bakery, where Vanderhoop offers a bodega of food choices in an open, outdoor setting.

“I have one of the largest food distribution companies that comes to the bakery four or five times every week. Back when I first started this, I just did it knowing it was going to be necessary for other sources to have help with the demand,” Vanderhoop said.

Through this realization, Vanderhoop began working with Island Grown Initiative’s Thimble Farm Food Hub, and is reaching out to a number of other local farms and food professionals to get as much locally sourced food as possible for her makeshift bodega.

Vanderhoop thanked Alexandra Taylor of the Outermost Inn for all her help in organizing the bodega, and assisting in the logistical end of things. “I couldn’t have done this without her and so many others in the community, who are making this great service possible,” Vanderhoop said.

Although Orange Peel is a relatively small operation, Vanderhoop said it has big goals to act as a networking hub for food providers and consumers. “I want to get people on-Island involved in helping others, and a number of folks are already working on getting me food items,” Vanderhoop said.

She is stocking Katama Kombucha from a kombucha brewer in Edgartown, and is working on collaborating with up-Island farms to get locally sourced cheeses and meats.

According to Vanderhoop, food pickup days on Monday, Tuesday, and Friday see many locals driving up to the bakery to pick up their “wish lists” or food orders. 

In order to be organized and diminish the opportunity for close contact with others (like in grocery stores), Vanderhoop requests that customers stop by the bakery first, and she will provide them with a list of meat, produce, baked goods, and other foods that are available. 

Then folks can text in their grocery orders, and pick them up when the bag is prepared.

For Vanderhoop, safety and food security are at the center of her operation in Aquinnah. “We are all social-distancing, and learning ways to stay away from other people. But we are all wearing masks and gloves, and continuing to do all we can to be safe,” Vanderhoop said.

Although she will accept cash in envelopes, Vanderhoop said she prefers to limit contact by using online cash-transfer applications like Venmo.

“It’s all about limiting contact, especially for our community elders — it’s so essential,” Vanderhoop said.

And the gratitude from the up-Island community has been enormous, according to Vanderhoop.

She said folks are happy to have a secure place to shop for food where they know what is in stock, and what they might have to wait on.

“We are trying to provide some comfort during all this uncertainty,” Vanderhoop said. “We are providing safe handling, and taking a little bit of the worry out of whether you need to drive to the supermarket.”

Being involved in so many elements of the community, Vanderhoop said, her main focus has always been people. “I see some individuals twice a week, and it is that little, brief point of contact that is so special. I have always said that with all the stresses in life, it’s the people that keep me going,” Vanderhoop said.

She does get anxious sometimes, because her little bakery has become a huge part of many families’ daily lives.

“If I am serving 60 to 80 families, and I can’t get them their Island-grown greens and that’s what they were going to make their salad with — it might seem simple, but when you are their primary source of food, it is so important to meet that demand,” Vanderhoop said.

Because the pickup system that Orange Peel is utilizing limits contact, Vanderhoop said it provides shoppers with peace of mind. Instead of waiting in a long line or having to walk by people in grocery aisles with limited space, folks can wait in their cars at the bakery if there are already people picking up their groceries. 

“We are putting up signs for where people pick up their food orders, and some that say, ‘Please don’t go past this point.’ Before folks show up, we text them a receipt for their order. They are wearing masks, so everyone is doing their part here,” Vanderhoop said.

Currently, Vanderhoop is almost entirely on her own at the bakery, but said she has some prospective volunteers looking to help. “I have two on my list; I could probably use two more,” she said. “Whether it’s sanitizing and tidying up, wrapping breads and labeling grocery items, or making more signs, that help would be appreciated.”

From locally grown asparagus and farm-fresh eggs to dried goods like basmati rice, oats, fruits, and baked goods, Orange Peel is looking to provide whatever it can to folks in need.

She said the shelves will soon be stocked with more Katama Kombucha, and Orange Peel is always welcoming local food producers to jump in on the effort. Vanderhoop’s homemade honey will also be available, for those who don’t want to miss out on the sweet treat.

“Orange Peel has always been about the wonderful people in this community, and it will continue to have that focus during this difficult time,” Vanderhoop said.