Friday, February 18, 2011

Food Pantries Face New Challenges—and Come Together

By Jesse Poole
Ann Smith volunteers at the Acord Food Pantry.
Photo by Jesse Poole.

Gordon College News Service
(This article appeared February 22 in The Salem News and in the Gloucester Times)

Acord Food Pantry of South Hamilton, Massachusetts, may be losing some storage room and workspace but not their spirit of serving the North Shore community.

After the death of the former building owner, Harbor Light Community Partners (HLCP) of Beverly purchased the building where Acord now operates. It plans to install four affordable apartments, one of which will be handicapped accessible.

The change, however, will cramp the storefront size space but will not affect the number of people Acord is serving, according to Deby Baker, who has worked as its part time managing director since May 2010 and is Acord’s only paid employee. Acord currently provides food for an average of 300 households per week from Hamilton, Wenham, Ipswich, Essex, Manchester, and Topsfield, according to Baker.

“We will still serve the people, no matter what,” said Baker.

Acord is one of dozens of pantries on the North Shore surviving to support others in spite of economic or real estate setbacks.
Collaborating its efforts with various pantries, Acord receives weekly drop offs of food from Gloucester’s Open Door Food Pantry’s truck and other donors.

“Most of these food pantry organizations are small, so when they band together they accomplish much more,” said Dave Welbourne, executive director of Essex County Community Foundation. “The coming together is largely an efficiency improvement. It’s easier to raise money, get supplies and so on.”

Each pantry operates differently. “For years now Acord has had a lot of people working a little bit,” said Ann Smith, Acord volunteer and board member. “We find this helps.”

Five to eight volunteers work per day, two days a week. The pantry has up to 100 volunteer workers, ranging in ages from six to 80.

Still, with all their progress and commitment, Acord volunteers are preparing for construction that’s set for completion by July, making its pantry a little cozier. But it’s not something Baker is complaining about. “We are still absolutely thankful for the space we'll have,” Baker said.

State and town governments, and public donations will fund the construction of the new apartments. “There is very little affordable housing in Hamilton,” said Andrew DeFranza, executive director of Harbor Light Community Partners.

As budgets tighten, space diminishes and need increases because of the economy, Welbourne said food pantries across the North Shore—like Acord—are holding firm in their work and uniting in new ways.

“The bottom line is we need to make sure that everyone has food,” said Baker.

[For more information on Acord Food Pantry, Harbor Light Community Partners, or Essex County Community Foundation please visit the following: acordfoodpantry.org; www.harborlightcp.org; www.eccf.org.]

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