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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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!