By Eve Lee, Chair of Our Neighbors' Table Board of Directors
Are you looking for a new way to share your time and talents with Our Neighbors’ Table (ONT)?
The ONT Board of Directors is currently seeking new members for both the board and for several of our committees. You don’t have to have previous experience serving on a non-profit board, but that’s certainly a plus.
Prior to joining the ONT board three and a half years ago, I had been volunteering at ONT for about a year or so, and I was also a member of the Fundraising committee. The mission of ensuring food security has always resonated with me, and it’s where I have chosen to focus most of my volunteering over the past 20+ years. After quickly realizing how special the ONT community was, I knew I wanted to do more.
But, in all honesty, I wasn’t quite sure if I wanted to join another board. I had served on the board of another organization for four years, and I didn’t love it. I loved volunteering at the other place. I loved being on their fundraising committee. But, the board, eh, not so much. It wasn’t for me. The meetings felt like an extension of my already long workday. It wasn’t much fun and I didn’t feel a fulfilling connection to the mission. It felt like work.
But the Our Neighbors’ Table board is different. That’s not to say that being on the ONT board isn’t work – because it is. It’s a serious commitment. We have bi-monthly meetings and often have conference calls in between. We are expected to do our homework - whether that be reading reports, reviewing financials, or learning how to become more effective board members – and to come to meetings prepared to weigh in on important decisions. I feel like I’m an integral part of the mission to ensure that food security becomes a reality in our region. And, there’s not one board member who isn’t there for that same reason. In every board meeting, that singular mission shines through and guides all that we do.
And, like everything associated with ONT, the board is made up of the nicest group of people you could ever hope to meet. I’ve had the good fortune to get to know so many interesting, smart folks whom I might not have met otherwise. I learn something from each of them every time we meet – and I’ve made some great new friends.
But, really, the best part of serving on the board is partnering with Lyndsey Haight and the entire ONT staff. It is an honor to be able to support their vision - and the hard work that they do every day.
If you are interested in learning more about board membership – or serving on any of the various ONT committees – please reach out. I would be happy to share my experiences and answer any questions. The ONT Board is hosting a Meet & Greet on Tuesday, October 26 after the Annual Breakfast. RSVP to join us (either in-person or virtually) to chat more about the board opportunities. Hope to see you there!
By Shannon Bullen, 2020 - 2021 ONT AmeriCorps VISTA Member
What is Hunger Action Month?
Every September, the nation comes together to stand against hunger during what is known as Hunger Action Month. Originally implemented by Feeding America, Hunger Action Month is now celebrated by food banks and other food assistance organizations across the country to help spread awareness around the issues of food insecurity and hunger.
There are many different ways to take action this month (read about some here!), but one of the most important ways to take action is by educating yourself. You can use this post as a starting point in raising your awareness on hunger and food insecurity, including the list of recommended books, documentaries, and trainings. Please also consider joining ONT for “Lunch & Learn: Food Insecurity 101” via Zoom on Thursday, Sept. 30 from 12pm – 1pm. Can't make it on Thursday? RSVP for the training and we'll email the recording to you.
Hunger and Food Insecurity
In 2006 the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) report [i] included their definitions of Food Insecurity and Hunger:
“Extensive research reveals food insecurity is a complex problem. Many people do not have the resources to meet their basic needs, challenges which increase a family’s risk of food insecurity. Though food insecurity is closely related to poverty, not all people living below the poverty line experience food insecurity and people living above the poverty line can experience food insecurity.”[ii]
Hunger in the US, Massachusetts, and Your Community
Feeding America conducted the Annual Map the Meal Gap study in 2019. This interactive map allows you to see food insecurity in the United States and you can search my state, county, or food bank. Although you cannot find Our Neighbors’ Table in the search function, you can search our partner, Greater Boston Food Bank, and Essex County will be included. According to this study, there were over 500,000 food insecure people in Massachusetts in 2019. The pandemic has caused even more families to struggle. The Greater Boston Food Bank released a state-wide study that revealed that food insecurity in MA increased by 55% from 2019 to 2020.[iii] Feeding America estimates that 42 million people in the country may be food insecure due to the pandemic.[iv]
In 2020, Our Neighbors’ Table put more than 1.1 million meals on the tables of more than 5,000 neighbors.” Since 2019, ONT has served 1,615 more neighbors. You can read more about ONT’s fight for food security in our Annual Report.
If you or someone you know is struggling with food insecurity, please direct them here if there are within in our 12 communities or here if they are not. If you would like to join the efforts to create a food secure region, please read the different ways to take action here.
Recommendations to Further Your Education
[i] US Department of Agriculture, (2019). Definitions of Food Security.
[ii] Hunger + Health and Feeding America, (2021). What is Food Insecurity?
[iii] Greater Boston Food Bank, (2021). Gaps in Food Access During the COVID-19 Pandemic in Massachusetts.
[iv] Feeding America, (2021). Hunger Action Month.
CommUNITY: Stronger Together
From a small group of individuals to now engaging thousands of local residents and leaders who commit their time and resources to food security, working together is what helped us reach and sustain food security in Amesbury since 2018, it has kept food available and accessible though the pandemic, and it is precisely what will help us reach food security across our region.
Last fall, ONT secured $141,000 from the Massachusetts Food Security Infrastructure Grant on behalf of tour Seacoast Food Provider and Food Security Advisory Group partners. In the last months, our partners were able to install new refrigerators, pantry fixtures, and stoves to help them offer more fresh foods and keep up with need for services. The grant also provided food processing, refrigeration and grab-n-go cases for the Newburyport, Triton and Pentucket school districts. A new delivery van will be shared among all of the partners to help with the increased need for home deliveries.
ONT routinely surveys our guests to know if we're meeting their needs and to inform how we structure and schedule our programs. A survey of nearly 500 households revealed that we're hitting the mark!
Are we meeting their food needs? 83% say YES!
Are we creating a safe and welcoming environment? 93% say we're doing an EXCELLENT job!
Are we saving them money? YES! 52% report saving up to $50/week; 30% save up to $100/week!
Do we provide the variety, quantity and healthy food our neighbors need and want? More than 95% grade us as EXCELLENT/GOOD!
Volunteer Spotlight, Jeanne Langis
Volunteer, Jeanne Langis, has been helping out with Our Neighbors’ Table’s markets for about five years. “I heard about them (ONT) and I grew up kind of hard and I wanted to give back,” said Jeanne. Thanks to Jeanne, our Market has been stocked over the years and has made sure the Newburyport Market is also set up and ready to go. Throughout the entirety of the pandemic, Jeanne has volunteered three times a week making sure all the dry goods are packed for every guest’s grocery order. “For months and months I asked if she needed or wanted to take a day off and she always said no. She might have taken three days off since March 2020. She’s wonderful,” said Market Manager, Hannah. Jeanne has been a constant in a year filled with change. “I love the people and the idea that I’m helping people, that I’m making a contribution,” said Jeanne. Read more of Jeanne's spotlight here.
Volunteer, Jeanne Langis, has been helping out with Our Neighbors’ Table’s markets for about five years. “I heard about them (ONT) and I grew up kind of hard and I wanted to give back,” said Jeanne. Thanks to Jeanne, our Market has been stocked over the years and has made sure the Newburyport Market is also set up and ready to go. Throughout the entirety of the pandemic, Jeanne has volunteered three times a week making sure all the dry goods are packed for every guest’s grocery order. “For months and months I asked if she needed or wanted to take a day off and she always said no. She might have taken three days off since March 2020. She’s wonderful,” said Market Manager, Hannah. Jeanne has been a constant in a year filled with change. “I love the people and the idea that I’m helping people, that I’m making a contribution,” said Jeanne. When asked for a memorable moment, she said “There was this little girl. And it broke my heart. She reminded me of my grandchild. She had to ask me some things and it just broke my heart.” Jeanne has lived in the area for 45 years. She retired from working for the IRS and now has some free time. “I like to garden vegetables and flowers and I babysit for my grandchildren.” Thank you to Jeanne for all of her hard work, not only during the pandemic, but these past five years at ONT.
July 19 - 24 is ONT SNAP Awareness Week!
SNAP is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as "EBT" or "Food Stamps." SNAP puts money for food in people's pockets, that can then be used at local grocery stores and farms to buy food they may not be able to get at ONT. SNAP is a critical resource for ending hunger in our communities. Over 700,000 low-income Massachusetts residents receiving MassHealth are likely SNAP eligible but are not currently enrolled. This is The SNAP Gap.
You can be part of the solution:
1. Become a SNAP Ambassador. You can initiate conversation about SNAP with your network and educate fellow community members about SNAP. By raising awareness, you can tackle applicant reluctance and create social acceptance of people getting the help they need. Don' t have enough info about SNAP? Sign-up for a SNAP Training! "Understanding the Value of SNAP" will be held on Tuesday, July 20 at 5:30pm via zoom. RSVP to attend or to get the recording sent to you.
2. Support the Common Application, which would ease the process for individuals and families by allowing them to apply for multiple federal safety net programs at the same time. Senate Bill 761 and House Bill 1290 would create the Common Application. Sign-on to ONT's letter or use this template to send a letter to your state government officials to champion the Common Application.
3. Connect someone with SNAP. ONT makes applying to SNAP easy. Schedule a SNAP appointment online, or call 978-388-1907 x18 to speak with Tress Ricker, ONT Food Resource Advocate. If you or someone you know has questions about qualifying for SNAP or about recertifying for SNAP, Tress is available to help.
Read more about SNAP in Executive Director, Lyndsey Haight's letter to the editor for the Newburyport Daily News here.
SNAP changes lives. Advocate for SNAP. Promote change.
Letter to the Editor,
Leaving money on the table
A June 30 editorial article brought much needed attention to the opportunities for Massachusetts residents to access the state’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, often referred to as “food stamps”) to access locally grown produce. The Healthy Incentive Program (HIP) essentially doubles the value of every dollar in a household’s SNAP account when they use those funds to purchase fresh produce at a participating farm or retailer.
It’s wonderful that our legislature continues to invest in this program, and it’s terrific to see the bipartisan support at the state and federal level to increase SNAP subsidies to keep pace with the cost of food. But all these efforts are in vain if people are not applying to use the program. Underutilization of SNAP is one of the greatest barriers to reaching food security across our region.
In the greater Newburyport area, 52% of people eligible to use SNAP are not enrolled (60% in Newburyport; 70% in West Newbury). Why not? A recent study by Greater Boston Food Bank shows that a strong desire to be self-sufficient, lack of information on eligibility or how to apply, and fear of being shamed if seen using the program are the top reasons people say they’re not applying.
Most people enrolled in SNAP are working, recently unemployed or retired, meaning they have contributed their own taxes to invest in this safety net to catch them when crisis hits. If you had your own savings account and lost your job, you would certainly dip into your savings. People should feel no different about accessing SNAP, nor should we make anyone feel shame about applying for such a program. Years of research shows that SNAP is THE most cost-effective way to keep people, especially children, out of poverty. It also consistently has THE lowest rate of fraud of any government program ever. What’s more, in a time of national economic crisis, every SNAP dollar you spend, generates $1.50 in local economic activity. You’re not just keeping your family afloat, you’re creating and sustaining jobs, businesses and local farmers. Let’s get rid of this stigma and stereotype that people using SNAP are a bunch of “free-loaders”.
So how do people apply? It’s getting easier than ever. In fact, Our Neighbors’ Table, Pettengill House and the Salisbury and Merrimac Councils on Aging are licensed SNAP Outreach partners where you can process your application through us and receive ongoing support through the process. To book an appointment at ONT (available in 200+ languages), go to ourneighborstable.org/SNAP. If you’re applying for MassHealth, as of July 1, 2021, the paper application has a box to check so your application will also screen you for SNAP – a huge achievement in our battle to close the SNAP Gap on Beacon Hill!
We’ve learned that food secure communities require all of us to pitch in. July 19-24 is SNAP Awareness Week. Join a training to become a SNAP ambassador or just to learn more, ourneighborstable.org/SNAP and click “Close the SNAP Gap”. We hope you’ll join us in raising awareness, creating social acceptance of people getting the help they need, and building your own toolbox to close the SNAP Gap!
Lyndsey Haight, Executive Director
Our Neighbors’ Table
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 ››
News & Events
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!