Partnerships expand Millers Falls Library’s food assistance program

By JULIAN MENDOZA

Staff Writer

Published: 06-27-2023 6:10 PM

MILLERS FALLS — Building on its efforts to help the hungry, the Friends of the Montague Public Libraries has partnered with the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts to provide more fresh food than ever before.

According to Library Director Caitlin Kelley, the Friends of the Montague Public Libraries’ application to the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts was approved this month, building on years of gradual expansion of the Millers Falls Library’s food assistance program. The program, a collaboration between the Millers Falls Library and Montague Catholic Social Ministries (MCSM), has been limited in capacity and offerings since its inception in 2019.

“MCSM did not hesitate to support this project, and within months found additional funding to elevate our offerings so we could provide residents with a variety of foods that they actually want to eat,” Kelley wrote in an email.

The Millers Falls Library launched its food assistance program four years ago after a man came in “really hungry” and former Library Assistant Melinda Georgeson gave him her sandwich, Kelley recalled. Georgeson began keeping two drawers filled with canned goods in response. With help from Montague Catholic Social Ministries, the library expanded to have a full bookcase of canned goods, and began incorporating a variety of nonperishable items and hygiene products in January 2022.

Montague Catholic Social Ministries then began facilitating a grocery delivery program after receiving Community Development Block Grant funding from the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts in October 2022. This program received a five-month extension this month with funding from the Association for Rural & Small Libraries, enabling Montague Catholic Social Ministries and the Millers Falls Library to provide groceries for 10 families, as well as extra money for goods and funding for three nutrition programs.

Mary King, Montague Catholic Social Ministries’ Coordinated Family Community Engagement Program coordinator, expressed that the most recent Food Bank of Western Massachusetts partnership was driven by a commitment to providing those in need “food with dignity,” rather than the bare minimum to satiate hunger.

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“When we started the program in October, we really felt like there was a lack of access for food, but the food that was available for families in need was often not culturally relevant to them and never included the fresh food,” said Montague Catholic Social Ministries Executive Director Heather Wood. “I think … we can really focus on trying to provide the kinds of foods that we have now learned our families want in their homes.”

According to Michelle Geoffroy, agency relations manager with the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts, the nonprofit accepted the Friends of the Montague Public Libraries’ application because “we were impressed by the way the library staff saw a need in the community and stepped up to meet that need.”

“We know that there’s no food pantry in Millers,” Geoffroy wrote in an email, “and for folks without a reliable vehicle, or who struggle to pay for gas, transportation can be a real barrier to accessing the other food pantries in the area in Turners Falls, Greenfield and Northfield.”

While the grocery delivery program enabled Montague Catholic Social Ministries to deliver some perishables, such as meat and eggs, to hungry families, partnering with the food bank will grow the organization’s offerings into a “more rich version of a food pantry,” Wood projects. The library primarily offers nonperishable foods, such as canned goods and pasta, but the partnership may allow a broader selection of fresh food to be stocked, as well as a larger stock of hygiene products. The library will begin ordering items from the food bank next month, Kelley said.

“Food bank membership will provide the library a steady source of nutritious, free food to supply to their patrons,” Geoffroy wrote. “Some of the items we have in stock include spaghetti, rice, yogurt, cheese, low-sodium green beans, kidney beans and frozen ground beef.”

Improving the food assistance program, King said, is made more crucial by the termination of some pandemic-initiated Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits.

“It’s been hard for a lot of people and we still don’t know the extent of it,” she said. “This is beautiful and scrappy the way it came together, but this is not how a country should be handling its food crisis.”

In addition to stocking its own shelves, the Millers Falls Library will be visited by the Atlas Farm Mobile Market each Thursday from 2 to 3:30 p.m. throughout the summer.

The library’s grocery delivery program will run until October. There is currently one remaining slot available for a family to enroll. Interested families are encouraged to call the library at 413-659-3801.

Reach Julian Mendoza
at 413-930-4231 or
jmendoza@recorder.com.

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