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Beverly Bootstraps and other food banks find innovative ways to fill pantries

Posted by Susannah Blair  February 24, 2012 10:00 AM

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Two volunteers at Beverly Bootstraps.jpgKatie Thompson

Volunteers Lisa Brown (left) and Bethany Petrusky (right) at Beverly Bootstraps Food Pantry work to fill more bags with less food.

Kathy Kirlis knows about the economics behind supply and demand. As food pantry supervisor at Beverly Bootstraps Community Services Inc., she has learned that supply should ideally exceed demand, but too often lately the organization has found itself on the wrong side of that equation. 
 
In 2010, for instance, Beverly Bootstraps distributed 20,529 bags of food at its pantry on Cabot Street. That amounted to approximately 140,000 pounds of food.  But in 2011, they distributed 23,253 bags of food weighing 120,000 pounds. That’s 2,724 more bags distributed with 20,000 fewer pounds of food available. 
 
“The community’s biggest time for donations is in November and December and there is no walking room [in the pantry],” said Kirlis, 52, of Hamilton. “In the summer, shelves are bare and we’re shopping day to day.” 
 
Bootstraps receives about 30 percent of its food donations from the Massachusetts Emergency Food Assistance Program (MEFAB), a program funded by the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources that helps over 800 food pantries in the state. Kirlis said Bootstraps also applies for grants through Project Bread, a Boston organization that sponsors various anti-hunger programs, but for the most part, the pantry relies on neighbors and friends. 
 
The problem, Kirlis said, is that private donations from the community have decreased in large part because families who once donated are now trying to keep themselves afloat. 
 
But Kirlis said that where private donations have gone down, corporate giving has gone up. She believes food that corporations would otherwise throw out is the answer to a lot of the problems food pantries face. 
 
“Now local companies like Stop and Shop and CVS are giving us salvaged food that’s still good,” she said. “There’s a lot more awareness on the corporate level.” 
 
As 12 percent of the state’s population received emergency food assistance in 2011, a three percent increase from the previous year according to the MEFAB, corporations and other organizations have stepped in to help pantries like Bootstraps make up for decreased private donations. And many groups are working together to address the needs. 
 
“There’s a strong group of people sharing ideas and trying to help each other,” said Julie Bishop, the vice president for grants and services for the Essex County Community Foundation (ECCF), which raises funds and provides grant money to non-profits in the county. “There are very strong connections between pantries on the North Shore.” 
 
Bishop said the ECCF created the Essex County Hunger Relief website http://www.essexcountyhungerrelief.org/, which lists all food pantries and soup kitchens in the county, along with ways to find food, donate or volunteer. She hopes the website will continue to connect people and organizations to pantries and pantries to each other.
 
That’s good news for Sarah Bartley, development coordinator at Catholic Charities North, who said more people are requesting food assistance though that isn’t necessarily new. 
 
“We’ve seen increase in need, but the people we’re serving were struggling before the middle class felt it,” she said. 
 
What is changing, she said, is that it is harder for Catholic Charities to keep up with the needs that exist. 
 
“Every month we run out of what’s available,” she said. “A few years ago we didn’t run out.” 
 
Bartley said the organization is trying to increase funding as much as possible. Two popular ways for the community to give are through the gift card program, in which donors buy a gift card at a local supermarket that Catholic Charities then gives to someone in need. Another is the Friends Feeding Families campaign each fall, which encourages a host to invite friends to bring non-perishable food items to a “Brown Bag” party. Catholic Charities provides bags, fact sheets, and a speaker if desired. 
 
Whether it’s private or corporate giving, Bartley said people are still making an effort to help local food charities. 
 
“Individuals are generous when they can be,” she said. “People do want to give and are finding ways to do it.” 

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