Postponement of food drive leaves a shortfall

Local food pantries such as Haven From Hunger are urging people to take part in "virtual" food drives by making financial contributions. JAIME CAMPOS/Staff photo 4/6/2020

PEABODY — The indefinite postponement of Saturday's "Stamp Out Hunger" food drive is leaving a big hole in the safety net for families on the North Shore, according to administrators of two area food pantries. 

And it couldn't come at a worse time — there was a a 400 percent spike in applications for food assistance in April at Citizens Inn/Haven From Hunger in Peabody, said program director Kate Benashski. 

"These are folks who have never sought our services until now," she said. "They are scared. 

"It's always been our little safety net this time of year," added Benashski. The donations, which are as much as 11-to-13 tons, help feed children during the summer months. 

At The Open Door Food Pantry, which is based in Gloucester and has a satellite location in Ipswich, the need is also up. They typically received 10-to-15 tons of food as a result of the drive. 

"The food that came in was really critical to stock our shelves for summer," said Julie LaFontaine, the program's president and chief executive officer. 

The annual drive, held each May for the past 28 years, is a volunteer effort by postal workers, organized by their union, the National Association of Letter Carriers. But with concerns about the potential to spread COVID-19 through collecting, sorting and distributing donated food, the event has been postponed, according to a press release.  

"In a time when our food chain is strained to the breaking point, it leaves a gap," said LaFontaine, whose organization has seen a 40 percent increase in requests for food assistance since the start of the pandemic. "We're seeing folks who have taken a real economic punch," she said. 

Other sources of donations are also down, said Benashski. The amount of "rescued" food from grocery stores has almost been cut in half since the start of the pandemic. And they won't be able to rely as heavily on the Greater Boston Food Bank this year because they're in a similar situation. 

Both Open Door and Haven From Hunger are urging people to take part in "virtual" food drives by making financial contributions. 

Both LaFontaine and Benashski say they look forward to the day their communities can again come together. 

"It's such an amazing demonstration of a community at work," said Benashski of the annual event, which usually brings out 50-to-75 volunteers. 

LaFontaine said the community has always "rallied" to support the program, for which she is grateful. 

"The NALC, as well as our national partners, are fully committed to rescheduling the food drive later in 2020," the union said. "NALC and our national partners recognize that food assistance is a critical need for many during this difficult time, and we remain committed to helping those in need in the communities we serve across America. We look forward to once again holding the largest one-day food drive in America when it is safe to do so."

How to help: 

Donations to The Open Door Food Pantry can be made online at foodpantry.org or by check payable to The Open Door, mailed to The Open Door, 28 Emerson Ave., Gloucester, MA 01930. 

Donations to Citizens Inn Haven From Hunger can be made online at citizensinn.org or by check payable to Citizens Inn, mailed to Citizens Inn, 81 Main St., Peabody, MA 01960.

Donations to Beverly Bootstraps can be made online at beverlybootstraps.org or by check payable to Beverly Bootstraps, mailed to Beverly Bootstraps, 35 Park Street, Beverly, MA 01915.

Donations to the Acord Food Pantry can be made online at acordfoodfoodpantry.org or by check payable to Acord Food Pantry, mailed to Acord Food Pantry, Box 2203, S. Hamilton, MA 01982.

Donations to the Salem Pantry can be made online at salempantry.org or by check payable to Salem Pantry, mailed to Salem Pantry,  Box 295, Salem, MA 01970.

Courts reporter Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, by email at jmanganis@salemnews.com or on Twitter at @SNJulieManganis. 

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