Domb presses bill to bolster food pantries amid growing need

  • State Rep. Mindy Domb.

Staff Writer
Published: 5/23/2020 5:06:09 PM

AMHERST — Following Gov. Charlie Baker’s announcement last Sunday that $56 million would be going to initiatives combating food insecurity during the COVID-19 pandemic, state Rep. Mindy Domb is looking to rekindle discussion on a bill she filed on Beacon Hill that would create an emergency fund for food pantries affected by the public health crisis.

Domb’s bill, H.4732, would establish a $50 million “COVID-19 Local Food Access Emergency Fund” administered by the state Department of Transitional Assistance that would provide grants to food pantries to help with staffing, procurement, sourcing, purchases of food and other unexpected expenses.

Domb, the former executive director of the Amherst Survival Center, said she filed the bill in March as demand for food pantry services increased due to the economic uncertainty created by the pandemic. She said the bill would help food pantries increase capacity by hiring staff as well as boost their ability to purchase food, sustaining pantries’ response to increased need for a longer period of time.

“It’s a government responsibility to help and support, not just the community’s responsibility,” said Domb, D-Amherst.

Baker’s administration said in a statement that $36 million of his planned spending would go to a “COVID-19 Food Security Infrastructure Grant Program,” for food banks and pantries, local distribution partners and farmers to help ensure access to food. The governor also announced $12 million for 25,000 family food boxes per week distributed to food pantries, $5 million to increase HIP benefits, $3 million of funding to food banks as well as other allocations.

Domb’s bill would specifically support food pantries, which she said is unusual since state funds regarding food distribution normally go to food banks. The difference is that food banks collect and store food that is then disbursed to food pantries, meal programs and charities, while food pantries hand out provisions directly to people who need them.

“Both are definitely necessary,” Domb said. “Food pantries often don’t get unique attention because they usually fold it into the attention that we give food banks.”

Dedicating more funding specifically to food pantries, Domb said, would allow each individual operation to make their own independent decisions on how to use their given money depending on their needs.

“We’re using the funding to get more food to more people,” she said.

Domb said she did not support the governor’s idea for pre-assembled food boxes, noting that the $12 million price tag was a lot of money and that the program could become a burden on food pantries as they may need to create entirely new systems and operations just to distribute that food.

Though Baker’s plan does have provisions for grants to increase food pantry capacity, Domb said “It may not be enough.” She said the governor has not done an adequate job of “destigmatizing” participation in food programs.

“He needs to actually be promoting reaching out and getting assistance from people’s local food pantry,” Domb said.

Lev Ben-Ezra, the current executive director of the Amherst Survival Center, said there was a 383% increase last week versus the same week the previous year in the number of new people registering for the food pantry. Extra funds would help the survival center hire more staff to boost its capacity and also increase its ability to directly purchase food, Ben-Ezra said.

“With the resources that this bill would provide, we can grow our staffing, grow our infrastructure and really make an enormous impact on the food security of our region,” Ben-Ezra said.

Though she wasn’t familiar with all of the details of Baker’s announcement, Ben-Ezra said that a “more well and consistently funded food distribution network at the food pantry level would support dramatically increased access for people.”

Michael Connors can be reached at
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