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Local food pantries gear up for winter weather and the holiday season

Bella Gonzalez
Local food pantries gear up for winter weather and the holiday season
ABCD Deputy Field Director Ivana Serret and Operations Manager Joane Guzman of ABCD Roxbury/N. Dorchester Neighborhood Opportunity Center. PHOTO: ABCD BOSTON

As Bostonians bundle up and hunker down for the winter months, local food pantries are seeing an influx of need from families and individuals across the city.

Food insecurity rates have fluctuated statewide since the pandemic, but statistics imply that a wintertime spike could occur this year.

“This time of year is especially hard for families,” said Joane Guzman, operations manager at Action for Boston Community Development’s Roxbury/North Dorchester Neighborhood Opportunity Center.

Food pantries across Massachusetts are seeing a large increase in need this holiday season as more local families are trying to make ends meet, WGBH reported recently.

The pantry shelves were bare at Bread and Roses Community Kitchen and Food Pantry in Lawrence, with officials there reporting that the need for food has increased in the past eight to 10 months due to inflation. The increase in the migrant population seeking food and the expiration of  both COVID-era SNAP benefits and the child tax credit also are contributing to increased need for food, officials said.

In Boston, ABCD, which provides food and other resources to those in need, normally sees a 20%-30% increase in patrons during the winter and holiday season, Guzman said. Visitors to ABCD benefit not only from the typical canned and pre-packaged goods that food pantries provide, but also from the fresh produce, hygiene products, cleaning supplies and winter coats that ABCD makes available, she added.

ABCD’s food pantries rely on volunteers to run food drives that supplement the shipments they receive.

“Throughout the year, I always try to order a little bit more so we can always have something on hand,” said Guzman.

In addition to run-of-the-mill food pantries, ABCD oversees 12 Family Service Centers.

Bianny Suncar, director of the agency’s Mattapan location, said the centers are designed to both combat food insecurity and meet the unique needs of community members by offering programs such as rental assistance and foreclosure prevention.

“We just gave out 50 Thanksgiving baskets,” said Suncar, each of which contained a frozen turkey and a $25 Stop & Shop gift card that families and individuals could put toward ingredients for their favorite fixings and side dishes.

The Mattapan staff is beginning to prepare Christmas baskets, each including a frozen chicken and a Stop & Shop gift card of the same value.

Rev. Willie Bodrick II of the Twelfth Baptist Church Boston. PHOTO: WILLIE BODRICK II

A similar program can be found in Roxbury at Twelfth Baptist Church, where the Rev. Willie Bodrick and members of the congregation are working to ensure that everyone is fed well during the holidays.

The church hands out full meals — complete with frozen turkeys —on a first come, first served basis. They distributed 300 of the 500 meals in the first hour on Thanksgiving day, the pastor said.

“We see folks coming from Chinatown and from other areas in the city, because there’s a need for food in this season, in this moment,” said Bodrick.

Food insecurity affects the Black, Latinx and LGBTQ+ communities in Boston most.

According to Bodrick, the church’s food pantry sees a slight increase during the wintertime, but the weekly distributions regularly attract between 100 and 150 families.

“You see a line down the street every single Tuesday,” he said. “We see some increased numbers, but folks are coming pretty consistently.”

The church will conduct another special distribution for Christmas and is preparing for a similar turnout.

Bodrick said these programs are made possible by members of the congregation and other volunteers who devote their free time and energy to keep the food pantry running.

“It’s a huge part of our ministry and our outreach and engagement,” he added. “When we think about food insecurity in our neighborhood, we try to make sure that we do all that we can.”

Material from WGBH was used in this report.

ABCD, Bread and Roses Community Kitchen and Food Pantry, food insecurity, food pantries, Twelfth Baptist Church