Our Neighbors’ Table COVID-19 Operations Update
Lyndsey Haight, Executive Director
June 16, 2021
In March 2020, our nation and our Commonwealth declared a state of emergency in response to the spread of the COVID-19 virus. As with every other business and employer, Our Neighbors’ Table took actions to protect the health and safety of our staff – employees and volunteers – and our guests. In addition to our care for our people, within 4 weeks of the emergency declaration, our services were called on in a way we had never experienced: registering a surge of nearly 1,000 new people; assisting 5 school districts adapt to curbside meals and home deliveries; pivoting all of our grocery distributions to online ordering with a live inventory; packaging Wednesday dinners as take-out; and tripling our home delivery services.
Fifteen months ago, our focus was ensuring everyone who needed food from ONT could rely on getting the quantity and quality of food they needed when they needed it, with no exceptions. Today, I am proud to report that we succeeded without a single interruption and without a single COVID-19 infection among our employees or volunteers. In a survey of more than 400 households, 83% reported that ONT was meeting their food needs through the pandemic and shopping at ONT allowed them to save $100-200 per month to use for rent, mortgage payments and other household expenses.
As our businesses and lives re-open and we bring back some of those joyful moments we’ve all been missing, ONT’s priority remains food security – reliable, consistent access to adequate food to support a healthy lifestyle – for all of our neighbors. To achieve this, we will have to continue to measure our actions to ensure our people stay safe and our food distribution remains effective and efficient.
When will ONT re-open?
To be clear, ONT has never closed and, truthfully, our food has never been more accessible across the region. We will utilize a series of quarterly checkpoints to determine when and how guests may begin to shop in-person in our markets or dine with us on Wednesday evenings. The key indicators at each checkpoint are 1)public safety guidelines; 2)guest reporting of meeting their food needs; and 3)ONT’s operational capacity.
At this time, all of our programs continue to operate in the take-out, online shopping models. In this next quarter, July-September, we will be evaluating our capacity to re-open our pop-up markets at the Heritage Towers and Powow Villa (Amesbury) and our Newburyport Market. The Merrimac Pop-up Market will remain closed at this time, but all Merrimac residents are welcome to shop through our online portal or contact the Merrimac Council on Aging if home delivery services are required. Our central Market in Amesbury will remain online-shopping/curbside-pick-up until early 2022. Our Wednesday Meal team continues to evaluate our capacity to safely re-open the dining room.
Does ONT require or track vaccinations?
We strive to eliminate all barriers to food access, as such, ONT will never require our guests to be vaccinated in order to utilize our programs. At this time, we are not requiring vaccinations of employees or volunteers; however, we strongly encourage and have facilitated vaccinations for all who choose to do so. The fact is, ONT has more than 700 active volunteers and 12 employees. We simply do not have the capacity to track vaccination status for that many people and maintain our focus on programmatic efforts. As we move through our quarterly checkpoints, we will continue to evaluate if this approach facilitates or impedes our ability to meet our community’s food needs.
Does ONT still have safety protocols?
Yes. Because we are not requiring or tracking vaccinations, we will maintain our safety protocols, including mandated screening, mask-wearing and social distancing for all employees, volunteers, guests and visitors, and quarantining in line with CDC guidelines.
Is ONT accepting food donations?
We appreciate the community’s desire to lend a hand and pitch in where they can. Food drives and food donations are an important part of raising awareness of food insecurity in our region. We have missed these activities, but maintain that we cannot manage community food donations at this time. With a live inventory system, we must track and record every single can, apple, and package that comes through our door. We are able to secure the food we need through our partnerships with Greater Boston Food Bank, local wholesalers, retailers and food growers. As we continue to operate with 40% workforce due to social distancing requirements, we have to make our work as efficient as possible to maintain both quantity and quality of food. We are grateful to all those who have utilized our Virtual Food Drive platform, raising nearly $50,000 – the equivalent of 50,000 meals – in the last year and encourage you to try it out! Remember, those funds enable us to purchase fresh produce, milk and meats that are in great demand but don’t come through traditional food drives.
Are you still accepting new volunteers?
YES! ONT has hosted virtual volunteer orientations and welcomed more than 100 new volunteers during the pandemic. Many of our veteran volunteers had to take the last year off due to health risks and child care demands. We couldn’t have made it through this year without those volunteers who could continue to work with us and those who joined our ranks. Keep in mind that we cannot accommodate large groups or volunteers under 16 years of age at this time. We miss you and hope we can bring you back soon! If you’d like to become a volunteer, you can register at OURNEIGHBORSTABLE.ORG/VOLUNTEER. We look forward to serving with you!
Originally published as a column in the May 19th edition of the Newburyport Daily News:
This week marks five years since Our Neighbors’ Table opened the Jardis-Taylor Center, a facility that provided a new home for staff, volunteers and a state-of-the-art grocery market and distribution warehouse.
Through the generosity of the lead benefactor, Greg Jardis of Amesbury, and the thousands of donors who contributed to the $1.1 million campaign to Create a Place at the Table for Everyone, ONT was able to offer a free, full-service grocery store in a setting that reflected its core values of "Service with Dignity and Community," according to ONT Executive Director Lyndsey Haight.
Haight said in a statement that over the last five years, ONT has surpassed its strategic goals, which included declaring Amesbury its first food-secure city in 2018; surpassing 1 million meals per year in 2018 (originally projected for 2020), distributing 5 million meals in five years; and opening a second community market in Newburyport in 2018.
ONT has also doubled the number of people served each year from 2,000 to more than 5,000, serving a total of 8,365 people in 4,218 households over five years; launched the regional Food Security Advisory Group and set a goal for a food-secure region by 2029; and served as a statewide and national model for guest-centered and equity-driven food access strategies.
Because of health restrictions during the pandemic, ONT is celebrating this special occasion through videos and interviews being shared on its website, ourneighborstable.org, and its Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn pages.
It’s hard to believe that five years have already passed since we opened the Jardis-Taylor Center for Our Neighbors’ Table. Occasionally, we still welcome back someone who last came to visit while we were still operating at the Main Street Congregational Church. Their reactions are always the same – first they stand up straight thanks to the enhanced head clearance in our warehouse, then their eyes and mouths widen in awe at the visceral experience of how the building has elevated our mission. When we - staff, volunteers and guests – gathered to design the JTC, we dared to dream of what could be. When we officially opened the doors in May 2016, we saw those dreams come to reality. But that was only the beginning.
In the last five years, as a direct result of opening the Jardis-Taylor Center, ONT has more than doubled the number of people it serves, has significantly increased the percent of fresh produce, meats and dairy going into every household, and has turned over the power and decision making to each guest to decide what food they bring home to feed their family. And, perhaps the most exciting milestone, we declared Amesbury our first food-secure city knowing that quality food is universally available and accessible to all residents, even – and especially – in a pandemic. What inspires me as we look ahead is to see that ONT’s Market model and focus on Service with Dignity is becoming a favored model across the country.
To all of you who had the courage to break the mold and help us shape this work five years ago, this success is yours. To all of you who have joined this mission since we’ve opened the JTC, thank you for keeping an open mind and daring to serve differently. And to all of you who serve as ambassadors of kindness and food security, we look forward to continuing to shape this work with you in the years to come.
The growth that happened when the doors of the Jardis-Taylor Center for Our Neighbors' Table opened in May of 2016 was beyond anyone's expectations. By 2017, Our Neighbors' Table had exceeded 2020 projections of providing 1,000,000 meals annually and the number of neighbors served each year had nearly doubled. This service delivery would not be possible without ONT's team of incredible volunteers. Thank you to the 1,919 volunteers who have worked over 38,000 shifts over the last 5 years to help make this impact possible. Follow along on ONT's Facebook and Instagram over the next week as we reminisce and celebrate 5 years of impact at the Jardis-Taylor Center!
Volunteer Spotlight - Bob Mazzone
Bob Mazzone was first introduced to Our Neighbors’ Table in 2002 when he was the director of Amesbury Housing Authority. Bob would see the mission in action when he would call ONT to help get food for one of his new tenants and their cupboards would be filled within hours. “That’s when I became a devotee,” Bob said, “I saw the light.”
Bob has been a devoted ONT volunteer since his retirement—helping in whatever way is needed from driving our trucks to unloading groceries at a mobile market to building custom pallets. Bob also served on the building committee for the Jardis-Taylor Center, helping ONT find its new home and using his innovative energy to create a safe and efficient new Warehouse that is essential to ONT’s grocery distribution. Read more about Bob in this month's Volunteer Spotlight ››
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ONT's Summer Lunch Program Returns!
Bob regularly volunteers as a driver and in the Warehouse, but Mike our Director of Supply Chain and Logistics, also considers him our innovative engineer as he has built “skateboards” for warehouse storage, custom sized pallets for storage of milk, and many odds and ends around the warehouse to make it safe and efficient. He has held many different roles in the organization including time on the committee for site selection which ultimately brought ONT to the Jardis-Taylor Center. Once the building was all set Bob helped build up the Warehouse. “When I was a young man, I worked professionally in warehousing…We were trying to develop a system and I was able to inject my experience into a place that hadn’t done this before.”
This is not the only way Bob has been able to utilize his professional experience at ONT. He has volunteered much of his life including two years of service as an AmeriCorps VISTA in Chicago and Wisconsin. As an advocate for seniors, his work as the director of the Housing Authority has easily translated to our grocery delivery at Towers and Powwow.
“It has been a joy for me to work here and use the knowledge I have. I want to help the people who have no place to go and are food insecure. I love food. I love to cook and I love to feed folks,” said Bob on his experience at ONT.
Bob recognizes the growth of ONT and how the organization eventually reached the Jardis-Taylor Center. “It was the whole mentality ‘We will survive. Our mission has to survive.” No matter where ONT is located, the energy lives on. “It’s a wonderful organization and I love the comradery here because nobody is here to do anything but to do good. You don’t have to question people’s motives. It’s a relaxing place to work where you can walk away knowing you did something worthwhile. It’s a good way to spend your retirement.” Thank you to Bob and to all the wonderful people that have grown with us at Jardis-Taylor Center these last five years!
Our Neighbors’ Table is hiring a Market Coordinator in Amesbury! Great pay, 40-hour work week, and knowing that every day’s work is eliminating hunger in your community.
Would you like to earn competitive pay, while leading a team of volunteer staff to get food to people in need?
Our Neighbors' Table offers:
Applicants must have strong attention to detail, be organized, with excellent time management and communication skills.
Ability to delegate work to, supervise and motivate volunteer works is a must.
Professional demeanor with compassion and empathy for others required.
Applicant must have demonstrated experience with the Microsoft Office Suite and web-based databases, a MA/NH driver’s license, a clean driving record, and the ability to lift up to 50 pounds on a regular basis and stand for 8 hours a day.
Application subject to CORI check prior to hiring.
If you take pride in your work, and are passionate about helping people from diverse racial and socioeconomic backgrounds, then consider joining our team by forwarding your cover letter and resume, including salary requirements, to Ann Johnson, firstname.lastname@example.org or mail to Ann Johnson, PO Box 592, Amesbury, MA 01913.
In like a lion, out like a lamb. This March marks one year since every aspect of our operation shifted to adapt to COVID-19. Frankly, we’ve had enough lion to last us for the next decade. As we head into 2021, we’ll be channeling the lion’s courage with the calmness of the lamb. We’ll be taking the creativity, flexibility, and determination to provide food to our community and delivering it with kindness and dignity that have shaped our mission for the last 29 years.
Our Annual Report will be released in the next few weeks, but here’s a sneak peak: 5,100 of our neighbors turned to ONT for food in 2020, more than 1600 of them coming for help for the first time. Families with children represented more than 57% of those new faces. But every single one of them was able to shop for the food they needed each week, thanks to our unwavering corps of volunteers, our committed staff, a supportive Board of Directors, and all of the investments that YOU have made in building ONT to create universal food access, even in a pandemic.
Not since last March, have you seen long lines at ONT’s distribution sites. Don’t confuse this calm scene with a lack of need. In fact, there are now more than 10,000 neighbors facing food insecurity. As we reach more and more people, we are committed to serving our community in a way that respects our guests’ dignity, the preciousness of their time, and the need for certainty in putting food on their tables. Our online shopping portal, convenient curbside pick-ups, take-out dinners, and friendly phone support will continue to work behind the scenes to ensure that food remains universally available to all of our neighbors. We’re going to need to continue to invest in our infrastructure to ensure we can meet the need. The establishment of our Ward J Cromer Legacy Society will help us look beyond the year ahead, to prepare us for the lions of the future. There are many things from the past year that we’d like to leave in the past, but we’ll carry forward the lessons we’ve learned, the strength of our growing community of people committed to food security, and the trust we’ve built with each of our neighbors.
Our Unity perseveres,
News & Events
Ward J Cromer Legacy Society
Last year, ONT launched our formal planned giving program, allowing donors to create a legacy that feeds the future for generations to come. This growing circle of individuals and families who have made this commitment to food security are now part of the Ward J Cromer Legacy Society. Dr. Ward J. Cromer's legacy gift in 2019 gave Our Neighbors' Table the opportunity to expand our work to create food secure communities across our region. Dr. Cromer, a a Massachusetts General Hospital psychologist and gifted teacher, had a generous spirit and passion for helping children and people around the world. His parting gift will continue to impact our neighbors and provide food security for generations to come. Dr. Cromer’s life in service to others and his vision for the impacting the future inspired ONT to name the Ward J Cromer Legacy Society in his honor.
Volunteer Spotlight - Dave and Sam Lyman
Meet the dynamic father and son duo, Dave and Sam Lyman! Jen, Dave’s wife and Sam’s mom, had attended volunteer orientation in early 2020 and introduced the rest of her family to the organization. Knowing that the pandemic was impacting so many people, Dave and Sam wanted to give back by doing something at ONT. They began volunteering together in ONT’s Warehouse, helping to ensure the Market is well-stocked and ready to go for our grocery packers. As long-time Newburyport residents, both Dave and Sam love helping to put food on their neighbors’ tables. “I like helping out and knowing that I am doing something good for the community,” Sam said. Read more about Dave and Sam in this month's Volunteer Spotlight ››
ONT's volunteers are amazing and everyone knows it!
Meet the dynamic father and son duo, Dave and Sam Lyman! Jen, Dave’s wife and Sam’s mom, had attended volunteer orientation in early 2020 and introduced the rest of her family to the organization. Knowing that the pandemic was impacting so many people, Dave and Sam wanted to give back by doing something at ONT. They began volunteering in ONT’s Warehouse, helping to ensure the Market is well-stocked and ready to go for our grocery packers.
As long-time Newburyport residents, both Dave and Sam love helping to put food on their neighbors’ tables. They see behind the scenes of how much work goes into the logistics of the Market and what a big impact the time they give as volunteers makes. “I like helping out and knowing that I am doing something good for the community,” Sam said.
They also enjoy the experience of being able to volunteer together. “On the ride home together after moving boxes and setting up the shelves for the next day brings some great conversations about how fortunate we are that we can volunteer, and that ONT is a great organization that helps so many people,” Dave said.
In their free time, the Lymans are a sporty crew! Sam, a senior at Newburyport High School, plays golf, tennis, lacrosse, and hockey. Both Dave and Sam are avid skiers in the winter and try to get out boating as often as possible in the summer. They take their passion for boating very seriously in the Lyman household, as Sam works seasonally at the Freedom Boat Club and Dave volunteers at the American Yacht Club to help publish their monthly newsletter called the Sailorgram. We’re so glad that they chose to dedicate some time to ONT as valuable members of our volunteer force!
Our Neighbors’ Table is pleased to announce that we have been certified by Points of Light, the world’s largest organization dedicated to volunteer service, as a Service Enterprise! Achieving Service Enterprise certification is a prestigious accomplishment for an organization. Our Neighbors’ Table has joined the top 11 percent of nonprofits nationwide in volunteer management and organizational performance. Certification signifies that organizations have the capability and management expertise to strategically use volunteers to improve the performance of their organization.
ONT completed an extensive assessment, over 20 hours of training and coaching, and an extensive internal planning process to continue to improve how we integrate volunteers in all aspects of our organization and service delivery. By achieving this level of excellence and certification, Our Neighbors’ Table is now optimizing how we leverage the time and talent of volunteers to achieve our goal of universal food access.
“As an organization that operated solely with volunteers for 18 years, it was an important exercise for our team of staff to understand the unique context of working in a volunteer-led mission," said Lyndsey Haight, ONT’s Executive Director. “Going through the Service Enterprise process helped us to ensure that we are engaging and supporting volunteers to the best of our ability.”
Volunteers are an engrained part of ONT's culture and are essential for our service delivery. As an organization founded by volunteers with such strong roots in volunteerism, ONT is proud to be recognized for the participation volunteers have in our mission!
The Service Enterprise program is a national change management program that helps organizations gain a greater return on volunteer investment to better achieve their mission. For more information regarding volunteer opportunities with ONT, please visit ourneighborstable.org/volunteer. For further information regarding Service Enterprise, please contact the Massachusetts Service Alliance.
A healthy staff. Passionate volunteers. A community committed to keeping everyone fed – even in a pandemic. YOU. My family. And the few minutes of serenity I can find here and there. These are all things I’m thankful for this holiday season.
Since my last note to you in August, we’ve registered 303 new guests, including 74 children and 63 seniors, to our grocery programs. Every one of them have been welcomed without question, shop for their groceries online, and have been able to put 15,000 meals on their tables. Including turkeys and all the Thanksgiving fixings.
The holidays are a time for us to give thanks and celebrate with our loved ones. Holidays can also be a time of sorrow and loneliness, particularly this year. Over the last two months, we’ve been highlighting the Unity in our Community, and there’s no better time to keep this at the forefront of our minds than during the holidays. On social media, we’re sharing holiday traditions that we can share virtually or that remind us of our friends and family while we’re apart. I invite you to share yours with us! Simple things like a good ol’ fashion phone call, dropping off a side dish, or a handwritten card go a long way to let your neighbors know you care. If you’re inclined, you could even consider a virtual Friendsgiving or holiday party using ONT’s online virtual food drive page. Like everything else, the 2020 holidays will be different this year. But one thing remains – the strong commUNITY that bonds us.
Stay safe, be well, and spread joy,
Annual Breakfast Celebrates Unity in Community
This year, while we could not gather in-person for the Annual Breakfast, it was more critical than ever for ONT to share how we are meeting the unprecedented need across the region. ONT's Annual Breakfast was broadcast live from the Market at the Jardis-Taylor Center on October 20. This Breakfast's theme was “Unity in Community” in honor of the extraordinary efforts of so many to ensure our neighbors have food on their tables. Despite the virtual nature, the spirit of ONT was alive and well as viewers saw that universal food access is possible, even in a pandemic, when a community comes together. Thanks to a $10,000 challenge from presenting sponsor Institution for Savings, a record breaking $80,000 was raised! The recording of the broadcast is available if you'd like to view the inspiring morning.
News & Events
Volunteer Spotlight - Kathy Berman
Kathy Berman had been part of the ONT community as a donor for years. A Certified Public Accountant, Kathy says she had always planned to do “hands-on volunteering somewhere” when she retired. Once she cut back her work hours to part time, she decided to join ONT’s volunteer team and donate her time as well. These days you can find Kathy in our non-perishables stocking room on Saturdays, filling guests’ orders. When Kathy saw how things worked behind the scenes at ONT, she felt good about her decision to be a regular member of the volunteer crew and a donor. “What amazes me about here is that the guests have a choice in food,” Kathy says. “It makes me proud. I’m proud of this place.” Read more about Kathy in this month's Volunteer Spotlight ››
ONT’s Annual Breakfast is a time when we typically gather together and chart our progress toward making sure all of our neighbors have access to wholesome, nutritious food every day. This year, while we could not gather in-person, it was more critical than ever for us to see how we are meeting the unprecedented need across the region.
The Annual Breakfast was broadcast live from ONT’s Market at the Jardis-Taylor Center on October 20. This year’s theme was “Unity in Community” in honor of the extraordinary efforts of so many to ensure our neighbors have food on their tables. Despite the virtual nature, the spirit of ONT was alive and captured thanks to pre-record videos of ONT partners, volunteers and former guests. Viewers saw that universal food access is possible, even in a pandemic, when a community comes together.
ONT Board Member Dana Marshall of 92.5 the River returned to emcee the morning and hosted a conversation with former guest Dot, who bravely and movingly shared her story. Dana also presented the 2020 community champion awards, another highlight of the broadcast. Beloved ONT volunteer and board member Bob Murciak was honored as the individual champion for his unwavering dedication to ONT. The four school districts of Amesbury, Newburyport, Pentucket and Triton were recognized as champions for going above and beyond to connect their neighbors and students with food in this unprecedented time. Congratulations 2020 Community Champions!
Thank you to our presenting sponsor, Institution for Savings, who kicked the broadcast off with a surprise $10,000 match challenge. This challenge helped ONT raise a record-breaking $80,000, which will put over 80,000 meals on the tables of our neighbors. Thanks to everyone who gave and helped spread the word to exceed that challenge! Thank you also to all of our sponsors, who supported this event and hosted virtual watch parties. And huge thanks to LMV Productions for donating his time and talent behind the camera to make the broadcast an inspiring one.
The recording of the Breakfast broadcast is available if you’d like to view the inspiring morning. Stay tuned to our social media channels as we continue celebrating Unity in Community throughout the rest of the year!