Feeding the Hungry – Healthy Meals in Motion
Food insecurity has increased in the state since the pandemic began, including on Cape Cod. Getting food to those in need – often in isolated, rural locations – has been a challenge, and the Healthy Meals in Motion Mobile Pantry program has become more important than ever.
The mobile program, run by the
Family Pantry of Cape Cod, addresses three distinct issues that local residents face: food insecurity, isolation and transportation issues. A lack of public transportation makes it hard for some people to get around and many seniors lose their license as they age. Isolation was already a problem with seniors even before the pandemic, but now it is an even greater problem, according to Family Pantry Executive Director Christine Menard.
“What this does is not only provide food, which they certainly need, but it also allows the outreach worker to actually see some of these folks. That is really critical, especially when they are assessing isolation and those types of needs that are a little less tangible,” she said.
The Healthy Meals in Motion Pantry program started in 2016 with a partnership with the Chatham Council on Aging, according to Menard. Since then, the mobile pantry has formed partnerships with four other Councils on Aging including those in the towns of Provincetown, Brewster, Eastham and Dennis.
“A lot of times what happens with seniors is they might be able to get to their local Council on Aging, but they might not be able to get to us in Harwich,” she said. “So, what we do is once a month, we bring food to them.”
Seniors register to become a mobile pantry client at their local Council on Aging. Once they are registered, an outreach worker gives them a shopping list provided by the Family Pantry. The client fills out the shopping list by checking off food they would like to receive. Then a group of Family Pantry volunteers shop for all the food and pack it up, separating perishables and non-perishables. The food is delivered once a month on a Wednesday or Friday.
“If they order all that they can, they can have a two-week supply of food,” Menard said. “That means they can take the money they would have spent on food and maybe pay the electric bill or a medical bill or some other thing they might be facing.”
The Family Pantry program recently received a boost when Cape Cod Healthcare’s
Community Benefits program awarded a $30,000 grant for 2021 to further its work feeding those in need. Branching Out
The town of Dennis joined the program in February of 2020, just weeks before the whole world shut down. Once the pandemic is over, the Family Pantry plans to expand to the town of Orleans.
Even though the program first started in partnership with the Councils on Aging, they have since expanded it to include families in need. Now each of the partner towns has what Menard calls “a family group.” In Provincetown it is the elementary school and the non-profit organization Helping Our Women. In Eastham, it is the Cape Cod Children’s Place. In Chatham it is Monomoy Services and in Brewster and Dennis it is the low-income housing groups. The smallest site serves about 25 families and the largest in Provincetown has 60 families.
Food insecurity has been a consistent issue on the Cape and the pandemic has made that problem worse.
“We like the mobile pantry because it gets food to people who need it,” Menard said. “Last year roughly 34 percent of the people that took advantage of the program were new to the pantry. That means we are getting to people that you wouldn’t ordinarily be able to get to, which is really good.”
In 2020, the mobile pantry distributed more than 9,000 bags of groceries. The value of the food based on the non-profit group
Feeding America rate is about $380,000, according to Menard.
Since the pandemic began, the Family Pantry has not taken any food donations from individuals. They get all of the food they give away from the
Greater Boston Food Bank, which estimates that one in eight residents of eastern Massachusetts now suffers from food insecurity. Currently all the food that is given away is done curbside at both the actual pantry location in Harwich and through the Healthy Meals in Motion mobile pantry.
Once the pantry converted to curbside, they were able to leverage the grocery list they use for the mobile pantry and use it for the Harwich location, so people at that location also get to choose the food they will receive. It’s also much healthier food.
“In the old days of the food pantry, it was about what I call belly-fillers,” Menard said. “The foods were high carbs, high starch, high sugar. Now it’s really about nutrition, so about 35 percent of everything we distribute is fresh produce. We have on average 25 to 35 fresh items every week.”