It may seem like a small thing for Peabody’s Haven from Hunger to move from the basement of 71 Wallis St. into the entire building. For those who rely on the food pantry, however, the change marks an important step forward in the organization’s ability to combat local poverty.
The nonprofit, which also serves clients from Salem and Lynnfield, has seen an increased demand for services. A recent report from North Shore United Way notes that poverty in the region has increased by 20 percent over the last decade. According to the latest Census department statistics, 16 percent of those in poverty on the North Shore live in Peabody, and 25 percent live in Salem.
The pantry serves 1,500 clients a month and feeds 35 to 50 people at dinners four nights a week.
Providing a bridge to a better life for these neighbors requires more than basement space. The Haven area is cramped, with barely enough room for donated food and poor access for those with mobility issues. In the winter, clients often have to stand outside in the cold because there’s not enough space to move around indoors.
Alyse Barbash, Haven’s executive director, told reporter John Castelluccio that the move into the entire space once occupied by the Moose Lodge will allow the organization to offer a wider range of services.
An improved, commercial-grade kitchen will move upstairs, along with the dining hall. The pantry area will be expanded to help families choose the food they need. A covered waiting area will be added outside, and the building will be brought into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Noncompliance with the Act has kept the pantry from receiving state and federal funds.
Another important addition: Barbash is in talks with other agencies to run nutrition classes, dental clinics and other workshops out of a new multipurpose room. It’s an acknowledgment that organizations such as Haven from Hunger are far more than food pantries; these days they are relied upon for a wide range of poverty-battling initiatives.
Buying the building from the Peabody Moose cost $442,000, and renovations are expected to cost another $1 million.
It will be money well spent.