DANVERS — The state has granted the Danvers Community Council $20,000 to bolster its People to People Food Pantry, an all-volunteer organization whose resources have been strained in recent years by an influx of homeless families sheltered by the state in the town’s budget motels.
At last count, 180 families were housed in Danvers motel rooms, said Town Manager Wayne Marquis. That’s up from June, when there were 104. These families are caring for approximately 300 children.
Marquis thanked Sen. Joan Lovely, D-Salem, for securing the state grant.
Lovely said she met with state agencies last year and had another meeting last week on the issue of homeless families living in hotels.
“As the state is trying to solve this situation, communities like Danvers are trying to provide services to these new residents, and one of these (services) is the food pantries,” Lovely said.
“Every penny counts. They are all volunteers,” she said of the pantry workers, “and Wayne tells me they are senior volunteers, and they use all their own vehicles and gas.”
The pantry, which is nearing its 20th year, is run from the town’s former senior center at 12 Sylvan St., next to Holy Trinity Methodist Church. Volunteers stock shelves, collect donations, interview clients, and deliver or distribute food and other necessities.
The work at the food pantry can be tiring and frustrating at times, Marquis said. It’s also relentless.
“This will be a shot in the arm for everyone,” he said.
The money will go toward food, especially fresh produce, and diapers. There is a large number of babies and toddlers living in the motels.
Typically, the pantry serves from 50 to 70 permanent families in Danvers, Marquis said, but the motel families have “more than doubled” the caseload. The food pantry also provided all the food to a Project Sunshine summer program for homeless kids run by the Recreation Department.
“We are very appreciative,” said Barbara Remon who runs the food pantry with Cheryl Ward. “Just the enormous expenses of food is great. Diapers and wipes are especially in need.”
The pantry is open Mondays and Thursdays from 8 a.m. to noon., except holidays. Remon, who has been volunteering at the pantry for 20 years, said she and other volunteers work at the pantry all week long. Three teams of two volunteers each deliver food to Danvers families or the motels.
“They just love doing their work,” Remon said.
On Jan. 13, Lovely and state Rep. Ted Speliotis toured the Econo Lodge on Endicott Street and the Extended Stay America on Route 1 to learn more about homeless families in motels. They also met with local agencies that try to assist them.
Lovely said she saw firsthand what it is like for families to live in one room with only a microwave or a hotplate to cook on. All the laundry, dish cleaning and bathing are done in the bathtub.
The problem of homeless in motels is not confined to Danvers. Lovely said there are about 2,100 families living in hotels and motels across the Bay State. The program of sheltering homeless in motels when the state shelter system overflows has proved expensive, and Lovely said there must be a better way to spend state dollars.
Speliotis, who favors ending the practice, said the grant to the food pantry is a recognition by the state of the “heavy burden” the influx has placed on Danvers community resources.
“I think it does reflect the understanding that Danvers is in a unique position in adjusting to the homeless,” Speliotis said. “There are 200 communities who are affected by the increase in the homeless in the hotels and motels, but Danvers is unique north of Boston because it’s the only one that has a concentration of hotels.”
Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673, by email at email@example.com or on Twitter at @DanverSalemNews.