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When the coronavirus pandemic forced the closure of schools in March, worry settled in for families with food insecurities.
To help combat the issue, Bryce MacKnight, director of Food and Nutrition Services for Concord Public Schools and Concord-Carlisle Regional High School, started a drive-up pantry program in mid-March at Concord-Carlisle, supported through significant community donations.
Gaining Ground, a nonprofit organic farm in Concord, started supplying the pantry with fresh produce in early April. From March 13 to mid-June, over 4,000 bags of packed produce were distributed.
In early June, MacKnight partnered with Maynard-based Open Table, which provides healthy food to numerous area communities. Through that relationship, another 2,000 bags of fresh, frozen and shelf-stable items were packed and distributed from June 16 to Aug. 28.
“We would not have been able to keep up the provisions over the summer and fall to community members in Concord, Carlisle and beyond had it not been for the generosity, experience and excellence in service from Open Table and their team,” MacKnight said.
Now, the big issue is how to continue to help those in need as winter approaches. They are contacting Emerson Hospital, the Town of Concord, the Concord Business Alliance and area faith groups to find a physical location. If they are unable to find a winter solution, they will make recommendations to each client of other sources of food relief in their area.
“We can’t be outside through the winter,” MacKnight said. “It’s not feasible for a lot of different reasons.”
The goal is to have a location the week after Thanksgiving and have it be drive-up friendly.
“It would not necessarily be inside,” said Jeanine Calabria, executive director for Open Table. “But it’s so you can drive up to a door that might be undercover and fill the trunks of a car without being in the elements.”
As a Greater Boston Food Bank Strategic Partner, Open Table can connect the towns of Concord and Carlisle to this distribution network. It has access to free or greatly reduced high quality and nutritious foods throughout the entire year that it makes available to residents.
The physical location – public or private — would be more for food storage for the day and to keep the volunteers out of the cold, snow or rain. Open Table currently picks up the produce from Gaining Ground with a refrigerated truck, so the physical location wouldn’t need to be refrigerated-ready.
“It’s a real game-changer,” Calabria said of the truck. “Gaining Ground has a really hard time delivering. So we can come pick it up and bring it to Open Table in packed bags and deliver it to CCHS.”
MacKnight said currently they are using 10-by-10-foot popup tents at CCHS that are sometimes weighed down with sandbags.
“In inclement weather, first of all, it’s not going to shelter anyone or anything,” he said. “It also doesn’t provide enough protection from the elements for the people who would be willing to come out and assist with getting groceries in the vehicles.”
Numbers at the CCHS pantry have dipped recently. According to Calabria, only 25 families picked up food on Sept. 30. And those who did show up were mostly new to the pantry.
“We’ve learned that some of the people who originally went through that drive-thru were not food insecure in the traditional way,” she said. “They were senior citizens who were very, very afraid to go into a grocery store. This allowed them a safe way to access groceries.”
How it works
To use the pantry, you are asked to provide the number of persons needing the service, whether there are children in the family and the town you are from.
“It’s so that we can track who we’re helping,” Calabria said. “We don’t ask for addresses. We just ask for a town. We do ask for age so we get the demographic right. Then we give everybody a bar code card that we just swipe.”
Those using the pantry are asked to mask up, stay in their car and pop their trunks.
“If you can’t pop the lid, there’s a table and you can load (the food) yourself,” Calabria said. “It’s totally non-contact.”
When it’s available
The CCHS pantry is open every other Wednesday from 1-2 p.m. It will next be available to local families on Oct. 14 and 28, and Nov. 11.
On Nov. 23 and 24, Open Table will provide fully prepared Thanksgiving dinners for those who put in an order.
Want to help?
Open Table currently has 450 registered volunteers, but Calabria said she could use more.
“We use about 130 a week,” she said. “But some do it once a month. Some do it every week. Some do it every day. But we’re actually eliminating that because of cross-contamination of COVID.”
To sign up as a volunteer, visit www.opentable.org.
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