Mobile Food Bank keeping hungry families fed

  • Volunteers Linda Slattery, of Leyden, left, and Marsha Stone, of Greenfield, hand out bunches of bananas at a free food distribution site at Oak Courts in Greenfield. The Mobile Food Bank distributes food to anyone who shows up at its two sites in Franklin County. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 2/13/2020 10:29:33 PM
Modified: 2/13/2020 10:29:22 PM

Gill resident Kim Malcolm started volunteering for the Mobile Food Bank’s monthly visit to Oak Courts in Greenfield a few years ago, and today, she is the volunteer coordinator for the one in Turners Falls.

“I do this because I care,” Malcolm said. “There are a lot of people lined up every month.”

The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts and Franklin County Community Meals Program sponsors the event, bringing fresh produce, meat and dairy to feed those who need it most.

Food Bank Executive Director Andrew Morehouse said the Mobile Food Bank began several years ago in an effort to get fresh food, before it perished in the warehouse, to underserved populations in the four counties of Western Massachusetts.

Currently, Greenfield Housing Authority’s Oak Courts and the Gill-Montague Senior Center are the only two sites hosting the mobile service each month in Franklin County. A truck arrives at Oak Courts on the second Wednesday of each month and distributes food from 1:30 to 2:30 p.m. It does the same at the Council on Aging on Fifth Street in Turners Falls on the third Wednesday of each month, distributing food from 1:30 to 2:30 p.m.

Malcolm said she and others wait for the truck to arrive and unload eight to 10 pallets of food. She said she knew there was great need in Franklin County when she was volunteering at Oak Courts and heard people talking. She then asked that the Mobile Food Bank consider setting up in Turners Falls as well. The Senior Center said “yes” to a request to use its parking lot, and a couple of years ago, it started delivering there once a month, too.

“People start lining up before the distribution time,” she said. “They look so excited.”

Greenfield Housing Authority Executive Director Daniel Finn said the food comes from Stop & Shop, local farmers and others who are concerned about hunger. He said it’s not just residents from Oak Courts who enjoy the service, but some residents from Elm Terrace and anyone else who would like fresh food.

“Some of my staff goes to Oak Courts each month,” Finn said. “It’s a pretty well-oiled machine. We actually set up deliveries to some of our residents at Elm Terrace who can’t get over there for their food. It’s an immediate distribution, so people are getting the freshest possible food. Children, adults, families and seniors all benefit.”

No eligibility requirements

Morehouse said there are no eligibility requirements, except to show up with a box or bag to carry the food. He said the idea started with four sites throughout the four counties — Berkshire, Franklin, Hampden and Hampshire — and has grown to 26 sites.

Between the two Franklin County sites, the Mobile Food Bank delivered food to 2,458 individuals in 2019, an average of about 585 a month between the two sites. He said 32 percent of the people who received food were children and 22 percent were seniors. The rest were adults. He said 88 percent of all food distributed was perishable food, including vegetables, frozen meats and dairy. He said 80 percent of that was produce, much of which was grown locally.

“The percent of seniors we served is higher than at some of our other sites, because one of the two sites in Franklin County is a senior center,” Morehouse said. “Over the course of 2019, we estimate that food was the equivalent of about 67,000 meals between the two sites.”

The food is transported in refrigerated trucks and kept in insulated bins until people pick their food up.

“It’s protein-rich, so people are eating well,” he said.

Morehouse said the idea came about when eight years ago the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts started looking at areas in the four counties where hunger was at its worst.

“We started to direct-transport the food to the neighborhoods where we saw the most hunger,” he said. “We reached out to farmers and markets, and here we are today.”

For the most part, restricted grants fund the program, but unrestricted funding, like donations from individuals, businesses, foundations, civic organizations, faith-based groups, agencies, schools and others help “fill in the blanks.”

He said the Stop & Shop Foundation, the primary source of funding for the program, has been “very generous” from the beginning.

Bringing food to the people

Andrea Leibson, executive director of Franklin County Community Meals Program, said people who participate are not asked where they live, only how many people are in their household and how many are seniors or children.

“The Food Bank pledged to bring food to people,” she said. “Stop & Shop started in Hampden County — there wasn’t a program like this in Franklin County. We knew plenty of people in Franklin County could benefit from this as well.”

Leibson said there is plenty of food, but distribution is an issue. That’s why the decision was made to bring the food to the people, instead of the other way around. People don’t always have the transportation to get them to where they need to go.

She said she was present the very first time the Mobile Food Bank delivered food, and was surprised at how many people were waiting in line. She said new people are always shocked at the quality of the food. Sometimes there are even household items distributed. She said the produce changes with the seasons.

“Each person gets a lot of food,” she said. “Young people volunteer to help pack up the food for them, so it’s a learning experience, as well, and we know that providing fresh food makes a difference, has an impact,” Leibson said.

She said giving people food allows them to spend the little money they have on housing, medicine, transportation and other needs.

Malcolm said volunteers set up and clean up, and they hand out the food. She said people fill their bags or boxes with smiles on their faces.

“We have students from Turners Falls High School and Northfield Mount Hermon helping each month,” Malcolm said. “There are also businesspeople and retirees who come to help.”

There are typically 10 to 15 volunteers each month, she said, with six to eight of them being students.

“This is really wonderful — great people serving great people,” she said. “It’s spectacular. Such a positive community activity, and it’s people of all ages helping people of all ages.”

Malcolm said as she looks around the parking lot each month, she sees nothing but happy people — recipients and volunteers — who either walk away knowing they’ll once again have full bellies or full hearts.

Reach Anita Fritz at
413-772-0261, ext. 269 or afritz@recorder.com




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