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The People’s Pantry shifts shopping operations outdoors amid pandemic

In an effort to limit exposure to the coronavirus pandemic, The People’s Pantry’s operations were shifted outdoors. (Beth Moser)

GREAT BARRINGTON — For the first time since its founding in 1999, The People’s Pantry has transitioned into a farmers market style of operation.
This past Thursday, March 12, the Great Barrington-based pantry served a record number of new shoppers outside of its Main Street headquarters, said Beth Moser, vice president of the pantry’s board of directors. In an effort to limit exposure to the coronavirus pandemic, operations were shifted outdoors, she said.
“Due to the current coronavirus situation many of our neighbors have lost their jobs and have an increased need for food assistance,” said Moser, noting that the pantry typically serves between 50 and 90 families. “These new shoppers are south county residents who never needed our help before but do now.”
The recent uptick totals to around 10 new families, one of which is a family of seven people, she added.
Between the increased need and the pandemic, Moser says the pantry is being stretched thin trying to provide families with more food than usual in case they cannot come or in the event that the pantry cannot open in the days and weeks ahead.
“None of us know where this pandemic will lead us, but we all know that the neediest are likely to suffer most,” she said.
While it may be too soon to say for sure, the increase could be attributed to the closure of some meal programs or pantries, which are often staffed with elderly volunteers, said Lillian Baulding, communications and engagement officer for The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts. The Food Bank typically supplies items to The People’s Pantry at stops once a month, according to Moser. The pantry also uses donations to shop at Big Y for some of the staple items like peanut butter, for example. Oftentimes, Moser says she compiles a list shortly after the weekly flyer comes out on a Friday and Big Y will have the order ready for the following Tuesday. But feeling the squeeze from the influx of shoppers emptying shelves as a result of the pandemic, Big Y recently told Moser to come grab some items off the shelves, she said.
Currently, The Food Bank is planning for changes and is coordinating efforts with its incident emergency response team for its 174 partnering agencies in the four counties of Western Massachusetts, said Baulding. The Food Bank is also coordinating with major retailers and grant providers, she added.
Still, local organizations and individuals are trying to band together.
Bridgette Stone, one of the managers for the Great Barrington Farmers Market and director of education for Stockbridge-based Berkshire Botanical Garden, said that a coordinated effort resulted in a collection of more than 1,000 pounds worth of food in 48 hours for the pantry, CHP and Project Backpack at Berkshire Hills Regional School Districts to distribute. Understanding that there was already a large vulnerable population of low-income families that were in need that would be put under greater strain as a result of the virus, Stone said she put out a call for donations. Over the course of 48 hours, area farmers and individuals dropped off the 1,000-plus pounds of food to home goods stores, One Mercantile and Sett in Great Barrington, which became drop-off sites because the farmers market was not open at the time.
Stone also reached out to Berkshire Botanical Garden Executive Director Michael Beck to see if she might be able to utilize the garden’s 16-passenger van to transport food from The Food Bank’s headquarters in Hatfield as it wasn’t currently being used under current circumstances. Stone said that Beck responded with an emphatic “yes,” and as a result, the pantry will be able to travel to The Food Bank once a week and meet some of the increased need for the foreseeable future.
“40 percent of kids in our district depend on school for meals. Hourly workers are losing wages and still facing bills and taking care of their families. The elderly are more isolated and may not have access to the food they need. Communities can lift each other up in times of crisis with small acts of kindness,” said Stone. “We’re in this together.”
Visit thepeoplespantrygb.org to find both a list of staple foods the pantry distributes and a PayPal donation button. The pantry will be open to accept food donations on Mondays, from 8 to 9 a.m. and 4 to 6 p.m. and Thursdays, 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.
The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts also encourages monetary donations as every $1 donated can be used to fund four meals, said Baulding. To donate by phone, call 413-247-9738 ext. 108 or visit foodbankwma.org/donate/donate-now


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