Hunger hits home in Somerville

On November 25, 2010, in Latest News, by The Somerville Times

The Somerville Homeless Coalition's Annual Early Thanksgiving Dinner provided a home-cooked meal for over 50 homeless and low-income individuals. - Photo by Jen Merrill.

Local food pantries face challenge year-round

By Elizabeth Sheeran

Thanksgiving in the United States is traditionally a time to celebrate abundance in a land of plenty. But for many local residents, hunger doesn’t take a holiday.

The Greater Boston Food Bank reports that as many as half a million people in Eastern Massachusetts are now getting help from its regional network of food pantries, including as many as 170,000 children and teens. That means one in 10 area residents faces hunger on a regular basis.

And hunger has become a growth industry. The Food Bank is serving 23 percent more people today than it did five years ago, and Somerville food pantries say they’ve see the same trend here: In more and more local homes, the cupboard is bare.

“Our numbers have been growing pretty rapidly, without any need to advertise,” said Paul Kuhne of Somerville’s Elizabeth Peabody House, which runs a Food Bank-affiliated pantry.

Kuhne said business is unfortunately still booming, despite having been recently limited to Somerville residents only. He said the pantry serves around 400 households, mostly families with children, and gets eight to nine new applications every week.

Somerville Homeless Coalition client David (left) and his girlfriend, Elena, enjoy their Thanksgiving meal together at the SHC's Annual Early Thanksgiving Dinner. - Photo by Jen Merrill

At Somerville Catholic Charities, Tara Anderson said demand is so high she can’t keep the pantry stocked. “I do a food pick-up on Monday morning and by Tuesday afternoon we have nothing left on our shelves,” said Anderson. She said this year she’s seen a lot of new clients who are coping with extended unemployment.

Over 1,000 households are registered with Project SOUP, a food pantry affiliated with the Somerville Homeless Coalition. Coordinator Sandy Harris said many of those households have one or more adults who are working, but every week a few hundred families still turn to the pantry to help make ends meet.

“They only use it when they absolutely have to,” said Harris. “They have to make tough choices about what bills to pay and what to eat … or whether to eat.”

There are some bright spots. Anderson said Somerville is unique in that the local agencies and food pantries work well together to get food to the people who need it.

And there are a growing number of efforts to distribute more fresh food, since poor nutrition can be as much of a problem as hunger. The food pantries are working with local grocers to provide fresh produce and bread. And Hearty Meal For All at the Somerville Community Baptist Church partners with local farmers each month to serve a free meal prepared with high-quality, fresh ingredients.

But Somerville non-profits who fight the ongoing battle against hunger say the need is so great that they could always do more with more help. They are constantly seeking donations of time, money or food items – or all of the above.

Kuhne said donors can often make a much bigger difference with cash contributions than if they spent the same money buying retail-priced groceries to donate, since non-profits like the Food Bank can negotiate discounts directly with retailers and producers.

But he said food donations are always welcome, and Elizabeth Peabody House has recently launched a holiday food drive to benefit local families.

Organizations are always thankful for the increase in help they usually see around at this time of year, which has traditionally been a season of giving. But they would also like people to remember that hunger is not just a seasonal problem.

“People eat every day,” said Harris, “so we need giving in some form 24/7, 365 days a year.”


Organizations Providing Food Assistance in Somerville

Project SOUP Food Pantry
15 Franklin St., 617-776-7687
Need: money, food

Elizabeth Peabody House Food Pantry
277 Broadway, 617-623-5510
Need: volunteers, money, food

Catholic Charities Food Pantry
270 Washington St., 617-625-1920
Need: money, food

International Ministry Food Pantry
9 Cummings St., 617-625-1692
Need: money, food

Hearty Meal For All
31 College Avenue, 917-826-5298
Need: volunteers, money, food


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