BOSTON (SHNS) – With food insecurity skyrocketing amid the COVID-19 pandemic and its economic fallout, Cape Cod officials want the public to know that local pantries are fully equipped to help anyone in need.
Food banks and safety net services in the region have observed a significant increase in demand since the viral outbreak first hit in March. During a conference call hosted by the Cape Cod Reopening Task Force, leaders of local groups aimed their message Thursday at residents who could use help but have yet to seek it.
Christine Menard, executive director of the Family Pantry of Cape Cod, told reporters that one of her group’s biggest goals is reaching laid off workers who are facing food insecurity for the first time.
“We’ve tried very hard, and I think most pantries on the Cape have done the same thing, to remove all the barriers to access,” Christine Menard, executive director of the Family Pantry of Cape Cod, told reporters. “But if you’ve never used a pantry — and 75 percent of the time, word of mouth is how you find out about a pantry — if that’s not in your circle, they don’t even know we exist, and therefore, we can’t help.”
Unemployment has surged to record numbers during the pandemic. While joblessness is coming down, the number of families who do not know when or where their next meal will be spiked and remains elevated.
More than 650,000 eastern Massachusetts residents will face food insecurity this year, a 59 percent increase over 2019, according to data released by Feeding America in June and circulated by the Greater Boston Food Bank.
Statewide, one in seven residents are projected to face uncertainty about their next meal at some point in 2020, compared to one in 11 before the pandemic, Feeding America’s data show.
Four counties — Barnstable, Nantucket, Norfolk and Plymouth — saw food insecurity rates increase more than 70 percent compared to last year, according to the Feeding America projections.
Since March, more than 500 new households have paid their first visits to a mobile produce market that the Falmouth Service Center operates at Joint Base Cape Cod, according to FSC Executive Director Kerin Delaney, who described that amount as “much higher than we’d ever seen before.”
Residents who are unfamiliar with food services may hesitate to access them due to stigmas. In response, the Family Pantry removed previous requirements that clients submit financial documentation proving their need, Menard said. Now, they only ask for contact information and the number of family members they will serve.
Delaney said the Falmouth market’s outdoor setting made patrons more comfortable.
“A lot of them said they would never have thought of coming to a food pantry, but because we were outside and they were sort of anonymous, they felt safe doing that,” Delaney said.
So far, pantries and other services have been able to meet the heightened demand, speakers said. Delaney said the Service Center gets about 25,000 pounds of food per week to distribute, while Menard said her organization “ha(s) not missed a beat.”
State officials have also allocated additional funding to help address hunger needs.
The Baker administration rolled out a $36 million food security infrastructure grant program aimed at increasing food bank and food pantry capacity as well as the ease of using SNAP and WIC benefits.
A supplemental spending bill the Legislature approved and Baker signed in July authorized more than $5 million in spending on school meal sites, plus more money for individual food banks and pantries across Massachusetts.
Sen. Julian Cyr, a Truro Democrat who works with the Cape Cod Reopening Task Force, said Thursday that the supplemental budget allocated “almost double the amount of resources” to address food insecurity.
“We know food insecurity is an increasing challenge for a number of Cape Codders, and we want folks to be aware of the resources that are available and the capacity that is available,” he said. “Please reach out for help.”