Each year, more and more people take advantage of the free nutritious food provided by the Family Pantry of Cape Cod. That's partly because the need is growing, and partly because the Pantry has found effective ways to reach out to new clients, people who might otherwise never have considered asking for help.
In 2016, a study identified significant pockets of residents on the Lower Cape who suffer from “food insecurity,” or not knowing where their next meal is likely to come from. With donations from the Simon Foundation, the Greater Boston Food Bank and TD Bank, the Family Pantry bought a refrigerated truck and launched its "Healthy Foods to Go" program.
Originally a partnership with the Chatham Council on Aging, the program now brings healthy groceries to more than 220 clients each year, serving Chatham, Brewster, Eastham and Provincetown. While some clients visit the Family Pantry during its open days, others don't have access to transportation to North Harwich. In the case of some seniors, just waiting in line for their chance to receive groceries is a hardship.
“They can't stand that long,” Family Pantry Executive Director Christine Menard said. The truck delivers totes of groceries custom-assembled for individual clients who select what kinds of foods to receive. Each delivery includes dry goods, meat or seafood, bakery and dairy products, the same essential groceries that clients access at the Family Pantry warehouse. “It's all about nutrition,” Menard said. The food truck also provides totes of “surprise and delight stuff” like seasonal produce or other special items from bulk donations, she added.
The program was expanded to include Monomoy Community Services as a distribution site, bringing in families with young children. The food distribution is a chance to have face-to-face interaction with clients and possibly a way to reach new seniors in the community. It can be coupled with other senior center programs, like simple health screenings, to increase their effectiveness, Menard said.
“The mobile pantry has grown consistently since day one,” she said. With the current vehicle and staff, the van can serve as many as 60 people per visit. “That’s been wonderful,” Menard said.
It was also 2016 that the Family Pantry established a branch pantry at Cape Cod Community College in West Barnstable.
“They’re very busy,” Menard said. Established in a large closet, the college’s pantry stocks staples like peanut butter, cereal, tuna and pasta, helping clients plan their trips to the grocery store, but it also has other items that vary week to week.
The College and University Food Bank Alliance estimates that up to 50 percent of college students are living with food insecurity, even as they train for careers. Many students at Cape Cod Community College are already in the workforce, struggling to make ends meet while preparing for higher-paying jobs.
Reaching clients takes some creativity. Organizers sometimes print fliers for the pantry and attach them to granola bars, handing them out on campus. It’s an easy way to spread the word about the service in a way that’s non-threatening and confidential.
Not all of the clients are students; a number are adjunct faculty members who work less than 18 hours a week and aren’t paid during holidays and summer breaks. For them, the pantry is essential.
Given the high demand, the Family Pantry is working with the college to identify a larger space that will allow them to expand their offerings, Menard said.
Contribute to The Chronicle’s summertime Helping Neighbors campaign by sending a tax-deductible contribution to The Family Pantry, 133 Queen Anne Rd., Harwich, MA 02645, writing “Helping Neighbors” in the memo line. Donors can also text the word “hunger” to 80100 to donate $20, or donate online by clicking here.