Amherst collaboration helps struggling families and restaurants

  • El Comalito in Amherst GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 12/1/2020 9:47:43 PM

AMHERST — Families in the Brattleboro, Vermont area struggling with their finances as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic have been getting free meals from that region’s restaurants since August.

After learning about the impact the Everyone Eats! initiative is having on the community 40 miles to the north, business leaders in Amherst, working with town officials and an agency that supports families, is launching a similar endeavor.

On Tuesday, the new meal service known as December Dinner Delights began, providing 100 meals to 30 families twice a week using $10,000 in federal CARES Act money received by the town and matched by $5,000 from the Downtown Amherst Foundation, the fund established by the Amherst Area Chamber of Commerce and Amherst Business Improvement District. The program will run through the month.

“We start tonight and are so looking forward to solving three major problems towns across the country are facing,” said Amherst BID Executive Director Gabrielle Gould.

Those problems, she said, are the financial concerns faced by families, the economic challenges restaurants are weathering, and the disruptions to the supply chain for small farms and other suppliers.

Town Manager Paul Bockelman said Tuesday that families and businesspeople can derive some uplift from December Dinner Delights.

“This is dedicated to people adversely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, and has the side benefit of supporting businesses in a small way,” said Bockelman, who commended business leaders for their role in developing the program.

Chamber Executive Director Claudia Pazmany said collective partnerships help to make the most positive impact during difficult times.

Estimates provided by the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts show that one in six people in the region are experiencing food insecurity in 2020.

Families receiving the meals are being identified through Family Outreach of Amherst, a program of the Center for Human Development.

The 10 restaurants, which will make 1,000 meals in total as they take their turns throughout the month, are Bistro 63, El Comalito, La Veracruzana, Wheelhouse, Miss Saigon, Pasta e Basta, Kaiju, Osteria Vespa, Shanghai Gourmet and Fresh Side.

On Christmas Eve, families will receive a pie from Henion Bakery and a special children’s gift through support from The Toy Box, AJ Hastings and Amherst Books.

Gould said she and Pazmany would have liked to extend the initiative into the spring, but they understand that the pilot program’s continuation would depend on a new round of CARES Act funding.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.


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