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Following the food: Local food banks, pantries on providing during strike 

  • Volunteers Tom Andros, left, Mark Castro, top, and Luke Wing sort boxes of incoming food at the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts in Hatfield on Thursday. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Volunteers Mark Castro, left, and Tom Andros load a cart of sorted food into a refrigerated truck for storage at the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts in Hatfield on Thursday. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

Staff Writer
Published: 4/19/2019 5:17:29 PM
Modified: 4/19/2019 5:17:16 PM

NORTHAMPTON — As the ongoing Stop & Shop strike hits its one-week mark, local food banks and food pantries have felt the effects of the high amounts of food going unsold at the supermarket chain.

Some organizations, such as the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts and the Northampton Survival Center, have sought ways to continue serving those in need without crossing the picket line.

The Northampton Survival Center has been “respecting the picket line and not going for donations,” said Program Director Sarah Pease. Although the organization isn’t picking up donations at the store, she added that her staff is still accepting donations that arrive “in a way that’s sort of not interfering with the process of negotiations.”

Pease said that Stop & Shop employees on strike brought almost 200 pounds of bread to the Northampton Survival Center after workers within the store delivered the bread to the picket line.

Heidi Nortonsmith, executive director of the Northampton Survival Center, described this donation as “a way in which the spirit of everyone wanting to support feeding people who are vulnerable was really upheld.”

And while donations coming in due to the strike will help some people experiencing food insecurity, the ongoing strike is also placing some Stop & Shop employees at risk of becoming food insecure themselves as they go without a paycheck.

“I’ve already talked with some Stop & Shop employees who said that if this goes on for much longer, they’re going to need to come in for food,” Pease said.

About 31,000 unionized Stop & Shop employees across Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut have been on strike since April 11. The United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) union has said that Stop & Shop has proposed changes such as significant raises to health care premiums, reduced holiday pay and Sunday pay for part-time workers, and decreased take-home pay.

Stop & Shop has countered these claims, stating in recent press release documents that its proposed contract would include pay increases for all employees and other benefits that are above average among its competitors.

Volunteers at the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts also did not want to cross picket lines out of respect for the Stop & Shop employees, said Christina Maxwell, executive director of the Food Bank. However, the organization was able to compromise by picking up donations without crossing the picket line, she added.

“We really want to stay out of the politics of the situation and just stay true to our mission, which is to get food to people who need it,” Maxwell said, “so that just seemed like the most appropriate action for us to take.”

Maxwell said on Wednesday that the organization had received 10 pallets of produce and four pallets of dairy from Stop & Shop and expects 54 pallets from Stop & Shop and its distributors by the end of the week. Each pallet can hold about 1,500 pounds of food.

The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts also has taken donations from farms such as Plainville Farm in Hadley and Hillandale Farms in Connecticut – food that those farms normally would sell directly to Stop & Shop.

Stop & Shop is not currently included in the Amherst Survival Center’s weekly rotation of food recovery locations for reasons unrelated to the strike, according to Executive Director Lev Ben-Ezra, but the center is still feeling a ripple effect.

Ben-Ezra said that the Amherst Survival Center is currently seeing “a noticeable decrease” in donations from other grocery stores, which she thinks may be the result of Stop & Shop customers taking their business to other stores during the strike.

Despite this decrease in donations from other stores, Ben-Ezra said that the Amherst Survival Center remains “open and available to all” with its current resources.

“We are here and accessible to everyone and happy to provide food for anyone who needs it in our community,” Ben-Ezra said.

Stop & Shop spokeswoman Jennifer Brogan told the Gazette that the store is “looking to donate as much as we possibly can through our regional food bank partners as well as local food pantries.”

Brogan added that she also has noticed collaboration between those on strike and those within the store in bringing donations to food banks.

“We’ve heard some wonderful stories where people have actually left the picket lines to come and help load trucks for the food banks,” she said.

In a video update posted on the UFCW Local 1459 website on Thursday, Local 1459 President Tyrone Housey said that the union continues to negotiate with Stop & Shop. The union has made “some movement on health and welfare” in the negotiations, Housey said, but has not made as much progress in negotiating wages and pension.

Housey also encouraged members to continue to “engage the customer.”

“Our biggest weapon is to talk to the customers and encourage them not to shop there,” Housey said.

Brogan told the Gazette that Stop & Shop hopes to have the strike resolved “as soon as possible.”

“We’re working hard to reach fair new agreements,” she said. “There’s nothing more that we’d like than to have our associates back to work and serving customers.”

Jacquelyn Voghel can be reached at

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