Table Talk: Spring 2023
Amesbury Market Returns to In Person Shopping!
After three years of our curbside grocery model, Our Neighbors' Table has officially returned to in person shopping! While we didn't anticipate such a rapid shift in our programs back in 2020, we are still humbled by the response. Within just a few weeks of the world shutting down, ONT pivoted towards an online ordering system to keep people safe and well fed with almost no interruption. Over the next 36 months, we were able to serve over 88,000 grocery orders to 6,200 neighbors. In fact, over 3,900,000 pounds of food was distributed through the Jardis- Taylor Center during this time. We'd like to extend a sincere thank you to everyone involved over the last three years. During a time of change for many, you have provided a sense of stability with your time and or treasure.
It's only fitting that we resume in person shopping on the 7th anniversary of the Jardis-Taylor Center; a market where guests can shop at no cost, but also feel a sense of community while pushing their cart. This time around, we have expanded our shopping area, so more guests can shop with lesser wait times. There will be volunteers every step of the way to help reach high items, answer questions, and restock the shelves, just like any other grocery store.
Although our market reopened on Thursday, May 18, we hope you will join us on Thursday, May 25 at 9:30am for the official ribbon cutting! As always, thank you for your continued support. We'll see you soon!
More Volunteers Needed
ONT is fortunate to have a dedicated volunteer base. But with our programs re-opening, we have more shifts to fill and we need more volunteers to join our team! Current volunteer opportunities include: greeting and assisting guests shopping in the market, food prep and kitchen assistance for the Wednesday Community Meal, stocking shelves in the warehouse, intake of new guests and more.
If you have never volunteered with us before, the first step is to fill out a volunteer application. You'll then register for volunteer orientation and after attending orientation you will be able to sign-up for shifts.
If you have volunteered in the past, and would like to return, please complete our brief records update. Questions? Reach out to ONT's Community Engagement Coordinator Ben Quintal via email or at 978-388-1907 x10.
Life Is Better Full
Summer Lunch Program Returns
Seacoast Regional Food Hub Update
Volunteer Spotlight: Ron Starr
Ron Starr first got involved with Our Neighbors’ Table after semi-retiring in 2021. He sought something meaningful to occupy his time, and after a few nudges from his neighbor Lyndsey, he became a regular volunteer in our warehouse. When asked about his volunteer experience, Ron said that he thoroughly enjoys the shared sense of community, which makes it easier to connect with everyone. “Nobody has to be here, but we choose to be here today, it really makes the camaraderie easy.”
Some of Ron’s most memorable moments have come from wearing his ONT T-shirt while picking up food orders during his shift. When people see the logo on his shirt, he often hears wonderful testimonials from current or former guests. However, Ron’s most memorable moment as a volunteer was when a store clerk decided to put out a donation cup for ONT. He couldn’t believe the amount of people willing to contribute!
Ron has lived in Amesbury for over 36 years, although he has always been a North Shore resident. He grew up in Danvers before working as the Director of Media Studios at Northeastern University. He has also worked with local news channels and specializes in video production. In his free time, Ron enjoys spending time with his three grandchildren, who he sees about 5 days per week. He is also putting the finishing touches on his June wedding! We’re extremely fortunate to have volunteers like Ron on our team!
Join ONT to Sponsor & Serve!
Table Talk, November 2021
The holidays are upon us once again. For many, this will be a reunion of loved ones who could not gather last year. It’s a time to give thanks and treasure the little things that we can often take for granted. Smiles, laughter, and hugs are back! Every year, ONT offers all of the food to go along with these celebrations – from turkeys to pies, turnips to gravy. More than 1,000 holiday celebrations will be “catered” with food from ONT’s markets or lasagnas prepared by our Wednesday Meal chefs.
Your support of and participation in ONT’s mission is so much more than making sure your neighbor doesn’t go hungry over the holidays. ONT’s vision is for everyone in our community to be food secure all year long – that means everyone can know for certain that they will have 3 healthy meals a day, every day, always. And, together, we are making that happen.
We learned earlier this year, that the average family saves $300/month when they shop at ONT for groceries. Imagine what that $300 can mean to a family at Christmas time! Imagine what it means to a dad who can keep the heat on through the winter so his kids can sleep peacefully. Imagine what it means for a mom who has to pay for gas to get to work every day.
Today, I send my sincerest thanks to all of our community members who show up every day. To all who are packing groceries, stocking the freezer, driving our trucks, chopping onions, making phone calls or home deliveries, sending in a donation, sharing our tweets, and spreading the word – thank you! To all of you who see that, together, we are not just defending against hunger today, but building the hope and security for tomorrow – thank you and peace be with you.
ONT's Annual Breakfast Returns to Blue Ocean!
It was a rainy, blustery morning on October 26, but we were warmed by the spirit of community at ONT’s Annual Breakfast. It was wonderful to gather safely in-person with new and old friends while still broadcasting to our audience at home. Dana Marshall emceed our morning and led a conversation with Pam Kealey of Newburyport Public Schools and Tress Ricker, ONT's Food Resource Advocate, about what they are hearing from our guests and neighbors who are experiencing food insecurity first-hand. We are thankful for the chance to bring everyone together to remind ourselves of the importance of addressing food insecurity as both a social and economic condition that affects every aspect of our community. It was an honor to celebrate our 2021 Community Champions - congratulations to the Town of Salisbury (pictured above), Bill Ginivan and Clarissa Taylor. Special thanks to our sponsors and all who joined us to raise funds to provide nearly 80,000 meals to our neighbors! Read more about the Annual Breakfast ››
Food Drive Fun!
Volunteer Spotlights - Bill Ginivan & Clarissa Taylor
News & Events
Thanksgiving Recipe from ONT's Heather Paterson
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.
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.
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!
Food Security & Environmental Stewardship Go Together Like Peanut Butter & Jelly
Originally published as a column in the September 21 edition of the Newburyport Daily News:
In our history, local food drives, collecting nonperishables purchased by community members, were a vital part of filling the shelves in Our Neighbors’ Table’s food pantries. Early partnerships with local stores like Stop & Shop and Vermette’s yielded a trunk full of surplus bread or desserts. But for most of our 27 years, most of our food came either from food drives, direct purchases or from a food bank. Today, things look a little differently. More than 25% of the food that stocks our markets is “rescued” from local retailers and wholesalers, redirected from landfills to our shelves and ultimately to neighbors who can really use it.
Our Neighbors’ Table, based in Amesbury, has been providing dignified food assistance to northeastern Essex County since 1992. In 2016, we turned the traditional food pantry model on its head, replacing it with a one-of-a-kind grocery market that guests and community members have likened to Stop & Shop or Whole Foods. In 2018, more than 4,000 people living in the greater Newburyport area shopped for groceries in our markets, now located in Amesbury, Newburyport and Merrimac. In 2018 we declared Amesbury a Food-Secure City and now set our sights on doing the same in Salisbury, Merrimac and Newburyport by the end of 2020.
While serving our neighbors in need is our primary mission, “rescuing” food and being good stewards of our land has also become an important part of our operation. Here are just a few of the ways ONT is lessening the impact of waste on our environment.
There’s still a long way to go for the mainstream food industry, from restaurants to grocery store patrons, to become better shoppers and reduce waste in our food supply chain. For now, ONT has been able to put that surplus and rejected food to good use. I’d also like to think we can serve as a model for us all to change the way we take food for granted and lessen our own footprints in the vast land of food waste.
Sustaining Investments from the Cummings Foundation, the Mary Alice Arakelian Foundation, the United Way and More Will Drive Progress Throughout Northeastern Essex County
Our Neighbors’ Table, a non-profit organization that has turned food assistance on its head by providing flexible, personalized programs through Northeastern Essex County, today announced that it is poised to declare Newburyport, Salisbury and Merrimac “Food Secure Cities” by the end of 2020. This comes on the heels of declaring Amesbury its first Food Secure City in 2018. Additionally, Our Neighbors’ Table has laid out a strategic plan to ensure its entire service region in Northeastern Essex County is food-secure by 2029.
Our Neighbors’ Table has secured both short and long-term investments that help make this vision possible:
“The volume of meals we have distributed has more than doubled over the last three years. Our focus now is ensuring those meals get into the hands of all of our neighbors who need it,” explains Executive Director Lyndsey Haight. . “While the economy is thriving for some, we are seeing more and more people in our community falling through the cracks. We’ve seen first-hand the impact we can have when individuals, city- and town-services, businesses, and community groups come together. Food security is something we can provide for every person living in our community.”
Despite the economic recovery and the prevalence of wealth in the region, the level of food insecurity in northeastern Essex County has increased by almost 10%, by more than 15% in Newburyport and by 40% in Salisbury, since 2015 (data provided by Greater Boston Food Bank).
Serving 11 communities of northeastern Essex County, ONT has established a strong collective formally known as the Food Security Advisory Council (FSAG) that is working together to better understand the barriers that prevent local residents from accessing adequate and nutritious food on a daily basis and to formalize effective strategies to make food available and accessible to everyone when and where it is needed.
Food Insecurity is defined by the USDA is a household-level economic and social condition of limited or uncertain access to adequate food.
The Food Security Advisory Council includes the Mayors of Newburyport and Amesbury; Anna Jaques Hospital, Superintendents from the Amesbury, Newburyport, Triton and Pentucket school districts; Children’s Health Care; Councils on Aging in Salisbury and Newburyport; and law enforcement, social service providers, and town officials from across the region.
Hunger affects 1 out of every 16 people living in northeastern Essex County. That means there are 6,000 neighbors with empty plates on their tables. Even more staggering, 1 out of every 5 of our seniors and 1 out of every 8 children in our region are struggling through each day without enough food. Our Neighbors’ Table has eliminated the traditional approach of strict schedules, cumbersome qualification and limited food selection by offering people-centric experiences and access to fresh, wholesome food when and where people throughout northeastern Essex County need it. Our grocery programs provide food assistance to individuals and families living in Amesbury, Boxford, Byfield, Georgetown, Groveland, Merrimac, Newbury, Newburyport, Rowley, Salisbury, South Hampton (NH), and West Newbury. Visit ourneighborstable.org for more information.
New Data: National Food Insecurity Steadies while Northeastern Essex County Need Increases
Feeding America and the Greater Boston Food Bank have just released updated data on the rate of food insecurity across the US and Massachusetts. According to Feeding America’s “Map the Meal Gap” report:
So, that’s good news right? Well, unfortunately, the picture in northeastern Essex County seems to be bucking the trend.
First, let me provide a little context. Since 2015, ONT has worked with data estimates of 6,000 food insecure individuals in northeastern Essex County (1 out of 8 children; 1 out of 5 seniors) across our service area (GBFB, 2015). However, the latest data provided to ONT from Greater Boston Food Bank indicates a regional increase to 6,500. While that may not seem like a huge number, it’s a more than 15% increase in need across 5 of the 10 Massachusetts communities we serve.
While it may come as a surprise to many, the cities of Amesbury and Newburyport have consistently been home to the highest number of food insecure individuals in our region, with Newburyport topping the charts. Here are some of the facts:
When you’re in a growing economy, there is a mindset that “a rising tide raises all ships.” However, it’s important to remember that a growing economy can also result in the cost of living outpacing wage growth, especially for those living on fixed incomes or working in our local service industries. Massachusetts, according to Feeding America, now has the highest food costs in the country, leaving local residents with an average $21 shortfall to afford 3 meals a day.
Let me rephrase that: A family of four would typically consume 84 meals in a week. But current wages, cost of living and food costs now force that family of four to live on only 61.6 meals for the week, meaning everyone can only eat twice a day, or, most likely, mom and dad will alternate days eating so their children don’t have to go without. “Sorry, Mom, it’s Tuesday – it’s Dad’s turn to eat.”
This rise in need likely does not come as a surprise to those of us providing food or financial assistance; teachers who see students come to school hungry every day; or emergency room physicians who see the spike in illness related to malnutrition. But for many, this need – right in our backyards - remains hidden in the shadows.
So what can we do – collectively – to make sure that our friends and neighbors and colleagues are getting what they need to get on the path to food security?
Step 1 is understanding:
We must better understand the local barriers that prohibit people from accessing adequate, quality food to support a healthy lifestyle (the USDA definition of “food secure”). Last year, in partnership with members of its Food Security Advisory Group, ONT surveyed local residents to measure rates of food insecurity and understand its causes. In a diverse sample including individuals and households across the age spectrum, 25% (1 out of 4) tested positive for food insecurity. Among them, 55% reported employment as their primary source of income, yet 70% reported “not enough money” as the primary obstacle to keeping themselves and their family fed.
The other alarming statistic we’ve uncovered is the gap between those who need help and those who are getting it. In recent years, various organizations have begun measuring the SNAP Gap – the percent of people who are eligible for SNAP (aka food stamps) but are not getting it. Nationally, the SNAP Gap stands at roughly 15%. In Massachusetts, it’s about 25%. In ONT’s service area, it’s 60%! Sixty percent of people who are eligible for SNAP are not getting the benefits they need. As we work with our local partners who are also providing food assistance, that SNAP Gap is consistent with how many people in need in Newburyport are utilizing services and programs available.
Why is this important? It requires us to examine what services are available and how they are delivered. We ask ourselves these questions every day:
ONT Comes to Newburyport!
ONT is excited to officially announce the opening of a weekly market in Newburyport. The program opened in June thanks to a partnership with Community Service of Newburyport and is currently serving residents of Newburyport, Newbury and West Newbury every Thursday, 11:00am – 2:00pm. After years of partnering on referring local residents to each agency’s services, CSN’s move to their new location at St. Paul’s Church in 2018 was the catalyst to bring ONT and CSN’s strengths and resources under one roof. The soft opening in June allowed both organizations to get settled in and work out any challenges. CSN officially welcomed the community at their ribbon-cutting on October 22nd, and both organizations are now looking forward to getting the word out.
Contrary to public perception, Newburyport has the most residents struggling with food insecurity of the 12 cities and towns served by Our Neighbors’ Table. Based on data from the Greater Boston Food Bank, more than 1300 people living in Newburyport do not have a reliable source of food every day. What’s also staggering: of those in need, only about 40% are actually accessing help through public or private organizations. “The need is there, but it’s out of sight. It’s hiding in the shadows,” shares ONT Executive Director Lyndsey Haight. ONT guests often report feelings of shame or embarrassment for needing help, a feeling ONT works to break down through our focus on hospitality and a dignified shopping experience. “We’ve been focused on treating each other with kindness and respect for 26 years. Providing service with dignity is the right thing to do, and it’s also the most effective way to bring people out of the shadows and get them the help they need,” says Haight. “Our markets might be bright and pretty, but we still understand that no one wants to have to shop here. So our priority is to make it as enjoyable as possible and to ensure that we offer the food selections that our guests tell us they need most.”
For the last five months, ONT has been working with Newburyport residents and leaders to build an infrastructure to ensure no one has to go hungry. Building on the success in Amesbury, which was declared a Food-Secure City earlier in 2018, ONT is focused on partnerships, raising awareness of the need and reaching out to residents in need. Drawing from the data provided by GBFB, ONT has partnered with the Councils on Aging in Newburyport and Salisbury, Anna Jaques Hospital and Children’s Health Care to conduct a local needs assessment to understand where, for whom and why food insecurity persists. The first 30-day survey phase was completed in September and revealed that, of 250 respondents, 1 out of 4 (25%) reported experiencing food insecurity in the last year. Survey participants cross all ages and gender. Employment was cited most often as their primary source of income, yet the vast majority of respondents identify lack of enough money as their primary barrier to accessing food.
The information gathered is being used to drive further research and to implement creative programming and strategies to eliminate barriers between people and food. The weekly Newburyport Market is a first step. Partnerships with Newburyport Public Schools and Children’s Health Care are helping to reach people where they are, break down the stigma and shame, and help people get the help they need. Since just last year, ONT has already seen a 70% increase in the number of Newburyport residents accessing their market programs.
ONT’s 2020 Strategic Plan lays a Path to Food Security, focusing on the communities of Newburyport, Salisbury and Merrimac, where current data demonstrates greatest need. The core component of ONT’s success in creating a food-secure Amesbury and expanding regional food security is its strategic partnerships with public and private institutions and with private citizens. ONT has convened local leaders to form the Food Security Advisory Group. Members include Anna Jaques Hospital, Children’s Health Care, Mayor Holaday (Newburyport), Mayor Gray (Amesbury), superintendents and school personnel from the Newburyport, Merrimac, Pentucket and Triton school districts, the Merrimac Police Department, Pettengill House, Newburyport and Salisbury Councils on Aging, and the Greater Boston Food Bank.
Over the last 8 months, the Food Security Advisory Group (FSAG) has convened and declared food insecurity an important issue in our region. More importantly, the members of the group have agreed that time and resources need to be dedicated to understanding and addressing hunger and food security for all residents. Working through its Regional Assessment Working Group, member agencies and municipalities have launched the first phase of our regional food security assessment. Surveys are being administered at Anna Jaques Hospital, Children’s Health Care, local Councils on Aging, libraries and online to start to understand where and why local residents experience barriers to getting enough food and getting enough nutritious food.
“Current research shows that 80% of illnesses and hospitalizations are tied directly to the food that we eat,” shares Dr. Gail Fayre, Chief Medical Officer at Anna Jaques Hospital. “Our joint efforts will help inform best practices to address local need.”
Over the next two years, ONT and the FSAG will focus on uncovering areas of unmet need and developing creative strategies to ensure no one falls through the cracks. “Our region is fortunate to have a number of food resources available. The challenge is understanding why people do not or can not participate in these resources and if the existing programs are best suited to meet their need,” states Lyndsey Haight. “But we are deeply encouraged by the interest and commitment of local leaders to solve this problem.”
For more information about the Food Security Advisory Group or how you can get involved with the regional assessment, please contact ONT Executive Director, Lyndsey Haight, at email@example.com.