With food insecurity on the rise, organizations step in to help
The organizations battling food insecurity in Wareham are seeing more need than ever before, as the economic effects of the pandemic continue to take a toll.
Wareham’s primary food pantry, the Family Pantry at Damien’s Place, has seen a sharp increase in users, according to executive director Jackie Arsenault.
“We’ve seen our numbers double since covid started,” Arsenault said. “We used to average about 60 clients a day. We’re up to about 130 now. … And each week we see more and more new families applying for a card to our pantry so that they’re able to come back again.”
Arsenault said the increased need seems to be related to job security.
“Traditionally, we get a lot of low-income families that are hurting coming in,” she said. “But now we’re seeing even people who never thought they’d ever have to use a pantry. We see them coming in, and they’re surprised that they have lost their job and they have to use the pantry.”
For many households, the pandemic-related shutdowns and other restrictions have resulted in job loss or at least a temporary loss of income. The most recent available monthly data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture shows that by April 2020 919,118 households in Massachusetts were participating in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, which helps those in need put food on the table.
For comparison: In April 2019, fewer than half that number of households — 445,664 to be exact — were SNAP participants. There was a 106.2 percent increase in the number of households participating in SNAP in Massachusetts between April 2019 and April 2020.
With the increased need for assistance, Arsenault said the pantry has noticed a strain on the food supply. The pantry had been allowing people to come as often as they needed, but starting Dec. 15 the pantry will have to cap households at two visits per month, she said.
Other community organizations have also seen an increase in need.
The Wareham Council on Aging’s Meals on Wheels program went from delivering about 120 free meals each day to the homes of seniors age 60+ and those with disabilities to delivering about 175 meals each day now, according to council director Missy Dziczek.
In November, the Gleason Family YMCA launched its food distribution program in the form of twice-monthly drive-thru community markets. The first market resulted in a line that stretched through the Y’s parking lot and down Charge Pond Road, and the entire food supply was distributed within only 30 minutes.
After seeing the overwhelming need, YMCA senior executive director Debbie Fringuelli set out to increase the amount of food available at upcoming markets.
“We will be looking to serve closer to 300 households next market, which is an increase of 100 households,” she said.
Dan Bernier, pastor at the Church of the Good Shepherd, said the church — which operates a food pantry and a hot meals program — has seen both increased need and increased generosity in their efforts to combat food insecurity.
“Within the first couple of months of the pandemic, people were calling or writing in ‘what can we do to help?’” Bernier said. “It’s just so heartening that folks realize the need out there for people, because they’re doing OK and they want to make sure everybody else is doing OK. It’s just wonderful.”
Wareham Public Schools also stepped up to distribute meals to kids in need. The current distribution model has been funded through June by the USDA and Congress.
“Our personnel, they’ve been doing a fantastic job,” said Michael Russo, the director of food service for the schools. “There are various challenges that come up, whether it be the weather or vehicle issues, but everybody has repeatedly come together to make sure that we’re able to overcome challenges.”
Food resources and ways to show support
The Family Pantry at Damien’s Place: A carriage of food (about nine bags total) is available for any family in the area who needs it every Thursday and Saturday from 9-11:30 a.m. People must fill out a simple application and provide a gas or electric bill as proof of address, so the pantry can avoid providing food to the same household twice.
Those interested in supporting the pantry are asked to make monetary donations rather than donations of food, in the interest of limiting contact. Checks can be mailed to P.O. Box 730, East Wareham, MA 02538.
YMCA Community Markets: Food is available for drive-thru pickup twice a month at the Gleason Family YMCA. Individuals will be asked for their zip code and for some demographic information about the members of their household. Upcoming markets will start at 11 a.m. on Dec. 11 and Dec. 21 and end once all the food has been distributed.
Church of the Good Shepherd: On the first Tuesday of each month from 3-5 p.m., the church offers families pre-assembled packages of food from their food pantry. Every Thursday, the church also offers take-out meals between 3:30 and 4:30 p.m.
People can support the church efforts by making monetary donations or donations of food on Thursdays from 2-4 p.m. Financial support can also be mailed to the church at P.O. Box 719, 74 High Street Wareham, MA 02571.
St. Vincent DePaul Food Pantry: The pantry at St. Patrick’s Church is open from 3-7 p.m. on Wednesdays. People are asked to wear masks and maintain social distancing while they wait for their food.
The Council on Aging: Meals on Wheels is available for seniors age 60+ or individuals with disabilities. Meals are delivered five days a week to anyone who is qualified and signs up. Starting Dec. 1, seniors age 60+ can also participate in free boxed lunch pickups on Tuesdays and Thursdays through Old Colony Elder Services. Those interested must call 508-291-3130 the week before to request their meals and pick up their lunches at the handicap entrance of Multi Service Center between 9 a.m. and 9:30 a.m.
Those looking to show support are encouraged to volunteer as drivers for Meals on Wheels.
Wareham Public Schools: All children 18 years old or younger are eligible to receive free breakfasts and lunches from the schools, whether they are enrolled there or not. Children do not need to be present when meals are picked up.
Students that are attending school in person are given two days of meals to take home each day, so their family only needs to go to a drop-off site once a week.
Since the school year started, the times meal sites are open has been shifted to better fit with students’ online learning schedules.
Meals are available at the Wareham Middle School front entrance from 9:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m.
At the Decas Elementary School cafeteria entrance, Shangri La playground, Woods at Wareham apartment complex, and the Onset Bandshell, meals are available from 10:30 a.m. to noon.