Groups team up to fill Northampton food gap

  • Laura Sabolefski, a employee of Red Fire Farm in Montague, brings soil over for starter plants Friday. Red Fire Farm is one of the farms contributing fresh produce to the Community Food Distribution Project. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Alex Walsh, a employee of Red Fire Farm in Montague, plants starter cauliflower plants Friday. Red Fire Farm is one of the farms contributing fresh produce to the Community Food Distribution Project. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Myra Lam, a volunteer with the Northampton Survival Center, with bags of food at Jackson Street School, where the Community Food Distribution Project will hand them out three days a week. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Laura Sabolefski, a employee of Red Fire Farm in Montague, brings soil over for starter plants Friday. Red Fire Farm is one of the farms contributing fresh produce to the Community Food Distribution Project. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Staff Writer
Published: 4/10/2020 6:39:34 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Late last month, the Northampton Survival Center closed its building and suspended on-site operations as some staff members went into self-quarantine due to COVID-19 concerns. Now, the center and a team of organizations have launched a new effort to meet growing food insecurity.  

On Monday, the Northampton Survival Center, Grow Food Northampton, and Community Action Pioneer Valley launched the Community Food Distribution Project. 

Bags and boxes of food are available for pickup three days a week at Jackson Street School in Northampton and once a week at several other locations around the city. 

In the first three days, about 280 households came to receive food, said Heidi Nortonsmith, executive director of the Northampton Survival Center.

“In a more normal period of time, we might serve 250 or 260 in a whole week,” she said. “I definitely know that we are seeing a lot of new people,” she continued, “people who have not been in need before but are experiencing the economic hardship of this time.”

Food supplies include shelf-stable goods and fresh produce from local farms — an intentional choice. Many farmers have lost sources of income, including selling at markets and to restaurants, according to Alisa Klein, executive director of Grow Food Northampton, an organization that is in close contact with local farmers.

“They are chomping at the bit wanting the farmers markets to resume,” Klein said.

The program supports both those experiencing food insecurity and local food producers.

“To me, that’s the definition of a really just and resilient food system,” she said. “And to create the kind of model … in the heart of pandemic, in an emergency time, is a testament to what our community is capable of.”

Pickup is Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays from 12 p.m. to 3 p.m. The school acts as a distribution site for the project because its size, unlike the Survival Center building, allows for proper social distancing, Nortonsmith said.

Food is also delivered to several sites — Hampshire Heights, Florence Heights, Meadowbrook Apartments, and 236 Pleasant St.— for pickup on Tuesdays from 11 a.m. to 12 p.m. Nortonsmith and Klein plan on soon expanding the number of sites. Groceries can be delivered to doorsteps at Hampshire Heights, Florence Heights and Meadowbrook Apartments to those who fill out a form at cutt.ly/growfoodshares

Anyone who needs food can access the program, Nortonsmith said. “There’s no shame, there’s no barrier. This is meant for people who are struggling,” she said.

“I just want people to know that this is happening,” she said, “so when you hear of a neighbor saying I think I’m going to lose my job, or my small business is closing, or I’m going to be furloughed for three months. Let them know, let them know, let them know.” 

Recently, the city gave Northampton Survival Center and Grow Food Northampton $25,000 in federal relief funds. A group of residents also contributed money to put toward produce, Klein said.

The organizations are still seeking additional funding, Klein said. “This is an expensive venture for all the organizations involved because we are buying this fresh, and in most cases organic, produce from local farmers.” 

This article has been updated.

Greta Jochem can  be  reached at gjochem@gazettenet.com.




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