As I See It: Yes, there is hunger in our communities

Courtesy photoAt the First Parish of Newbury Community Food Pantry, food is organized within the pews, ready for distribution days. 

Food pantries serving Greater Newburyport play a critical role in keeping our community healthy.

The largest pantry by far is Our Neighbors' Table, followed by First Parish Newbury Community Food Pantry, The Pettengill House and many smaller operations in senior centers and churches.

Together, they’ve seen an increase in clients of well over 50% since the start of the pandemic and have made Herculean strides to quickly introduce online and phone preordering, delivery and contactless pickup.

Despite the increased need, the food available from the Greater Boston Food Bank (GBFB) has not kept pace with the increase in people served at local pantries. As a result, pantries rely more than ever on food donations to stock their shelves.

As Jane Merrow from First Parish Newbury Community Food Pantry said, “Food drives are keeping us afloat. I could not get enough food and the variety of food we need without donations from our friends in the community.”

Because Greater Newburyport has a relatively prosperous population, we often don’t recognize the extent of financial challenges many of our neighbors face, challenges that have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The GBFB reports one in 10 residents in Greater Newburyport – the towns and cities of Amesbury, Newbury, Newburyport, Rowley, Salisbury and West Newbury — are food insecure with little variation in food insecurity among towns and cities.

These neighbors depend on local food pantries to obtain the quantity and variety of food needed for a healthy life.

Hunger, reduced quality and variety of food, and anxiety about where the next meal comes from is a part of these neighbors’ lives. Those struggling with hunger have higher risks of developing chronic diseases, including depression, hypertension and diabetes.

Children have more difficulty learning, get sick more often and recover more slowly. According to one estimate, hunger and food insecurity increased health care expenditures in Massachusetts by $2.4 billion in 2016 alone. No one has estimated the toll it has taken on neighbors’ quality of life and children’s futures.

This is our community. Our neighbors need our help. Next time you are at the supermarket, pick up some extra items or gift cards, and drop them off at a local food drive or during pantry donation hours. Your help matters to our neighbors!

Sue McKittrick is board president at Pennies for Poverty and a volunteer at First Parish Newbury Community Food Pantry. For more:  https://www.penniesforpoverty.org/.

HOW TO HELP

Donation drop-off hours and upcoming food drives:

Every Thursday from 10 a.m. to noon: First Parish Newbury Community Food Pantry, 20 High Road, Newbury. Phone: 978-358-1077.

Every Friday from 8 a.m. to noon: The Pettengill House, 13 Lafayette Road, Salisbury. Phone: 978-463-8801.

Upcoming drives at First Parish Newbury Community Food Pantry:

Saturday, Feb. 20, from 10 a.m. to noon.

Saturday, March 20, from 10 a.m. to noon.

Due to the pandemic, Our Neighbors' Table only accepts grocery cards and cash donations. Phone: 978-388-1907.

Food drive wish list: Because pantries now have clients order in advance from pantry grocery lists, they prefer receiving larger quantities of a smaller number of items. This way, they have enough to fulfill most or all the orders for an item. Items in high demand include hearty soups and stews, protein bars, cereal, canned tuna and chicken, pasta, canned fruit, juice boxes, baking mixes, gluten-free items, toothpaste, shampoo, bar soap, baby products, feminine products.

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