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!