As demand for services rises, Easthampton Community Center gets $25k boost

  • From left, state Rep. Dan Carey, Easthampton Community Center Executive Director Robin Bialecki, and state Sen. John C. Velis celebrate the announcement of $25,000 in funding for the center included the new state budget. STAFF FILE PHOTO/EMILY THURLOW

Staff Writer
Published: 11/23/2021 4:58:37 PM

EASTHAMPTON — This time of year, the main hall of the city’s community center is usually the site of classes and meetings, but with food insecurity on the rise and more than double the number of last year’s families to be served, Easthampton Community Center Executive Director Robin Bialecki said there is no other place to house that much food.

“When I first started 20 years ago, we were helping 50 families, and now there are 2,500 families,” she said.

The community center’s food pantry has seen an especially large influx of the families it’s serving during the COVID-19 pandemic. Last year at this time, Bialecki said the pantry was serving 1,100 families a week, whereas this year it’s 2,500. In October alone, the pantry signed up 325 new families to its food program.

With more families to serve, the pantry is distributing 60,000 to 70,000 pounds of food each week. In addition to Easthampton residents, the pantry serves families in several surrounding communities.

To help address some of that need, state Sen. John C. Velis, D-Westfield, and state Rep. Dan Carey, D-Easthampton, announced Tuesday that the Easthampton Community Center was in line to receive $25,000 in the fiscal year 2022 budget passed by the Senate and House and signed into law in July.

“This support means everything,” Bialecki said. “We’re going to actually target this funding for our children’s program. We’ve been working with the kids in the schools to make sure that no kid goes hungry on the weekend and that they get plenty to eat both in school and after school.”

The Kid’s Bag Pantry program is held each week during the summer months and once monthly at the end of each month during the school year. Each child 18 and younger receives a bag of breakfast, lunch and snacks for seven days. Typically, microwaveable items are selected, so recipients doesn’t have to cook anything.

“You couldn’t ask for (this funding) to go to a better place,” Velis said.

According to Bialecki, reports have come in from the school district indicating that there are children coming in hungry first thing in the morning. For those that are still hungry and arrive after the cafeteria stops serving breakfast, the pantry is supplying items that will be available at the main office.

“You cannot focus on schoolwork if you haven’t eaten something,” Bialecki said.

She estimates that the pantry is serving about 1,200 children per month.

“I can’t imagine going through the school day without anything to eat,” Carey said.

Emily Thurlow can be reached at ethurlow@gazettenet.com.


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