Tonight, Santa will make his annual visit to the Our Neighbors' Table Wednesday meal. Each year, he comes to dinner to visit with our guests, young and old. Children get dressed in their frilly dresses and bows and sweaters and ties. And the excitement bursts from their faces the moment they see his jolly face.
This is a special time of year, when cheer and gratitude fill the air. I’d like to share a favorite story about a very special gift we received at a previous Santa visit. Some of you may have heard this story before, but it is worth retelling as it captures the true essence of the season of giving.
On this particular night, the crowd had gathered as usual to see Santa Claus - many familiar faces sprinkled with new families coming for the first time. As I was greeting and lining children up for their photos, a woman dressed festively in an elf hat and holiday sweater pulled me aside. "My son has something he wants to say to you," she said.
I knew this woman, we'll call her "Lynn", and her son "Steven". Lynn is a single mother with two young boys. She works as an assistant manager in a fast food restaurant. Her mother, who also struggles financially, provides help with the boys when she can. The family shops weekly at our market and is especially grateful for the extra food that comes with the Summer Lunch Program.
So back to the Christmas dinner. I bent over so I could hear Steven" as he stands closely to his mother, looking bashfully at the floor – his voice so soft and hard to hear in the crowd.
"Hi, Steven. Merry Christmas!" I say.
Steven slowly looks up at me with his big brown eyes and barely whispers "Merry Christmas" as he holds out his hand. As I look down, I see a crisp $10 bill folded neatly in his fingers. And he is handing that $10 to ME!
Surprised and a bit confused, I ask Steven “What’s this?”
"I had a birthday and I got this birthday money."
"And you're giving it to us?" I asked. "Why?"
Steven looked at me with a shy smile and replied, "So you can help families who come to Our Neighbors' Table."
My heart nearly burst! I couldn't help but wrap my arms around him and give him a big squeeze. Steven, his mother and grandmother continue to come to dinner at ONT and use the market when things get tight. Steven has grown since his birthday donation, his shoulders getting broader, his face taking on the strong jawlines of a young man. His voice is strong, no longer a whisper. He talks about football and his favorite cars.
This holiday season, if you were thinking of giving, but wondered what an impact your gift would have, think of Steven and his family. Every day they struggle. But for Steven, the meals he gets at Our Neighbors’ Table have already given him hope. Steven knows, even on his tough days, that he has the power to make life a little better for someone else. His is the kind of gift that keeps on giving.
Today, in our community, 1 out of 8 children lives in a food insecure household, uncertain if they will get their next meal. We have the power to fix that, and, with the community’s support, with YOUR help, Our Neighbors’ Table can ensure no child in our community has to go hungry.
This year, ONT will put more than 1 million meals on the table for families like Lynn and Steven, that’s twice as many as we distributed last year. Every $1 you give equals 1 meal!
Happy Holidays to you and yours from all of the families here at Our Neighbors' Table!
Steven's compassion is an example to us all. Will you join him in helping a family who needs help? Give the gift that keeps on giving.
Our Neighbors' Table is thrilled to announce that Dana Marshall, On Air Host with 92.5 the River, will the the Emcee for the 2017 Annual Breakfast! We are fortunate to also have Erin Lynch, Executive Director of the Franklin Food Pantry, join us as the 2017 Guest Speaker.
2017 Emcee: Dana Marshall of 92.5 the River
Dana jumped into radio in Vermont in the 90s and never looked back. In 2000, she moved to Newburyport to begin what would be a long and satisfying career at the River. During her tenure (to date), Dana was Music/Program Director, On Air Host, and creator of such radio programs as Acoustic After Dark and the Boston favorite, Brunch by the River. Dana was instrumental in creating and curating the Newburyport Riverfront Festival in conjunction with the Newburyport Chamber. “It’s become one of the things I’m proudest of – bringing a premiere, free music festival to the Port!” Dana said. Mother of a grown daughter living and thriving in Colorado, Dana lives in the Newburyport area with her “partner in everything,” Marshall, as well as a 3 year old yellow lab, Jazz.
2017 Guest Speaker: Erin Lynch, Franklin Food Pantry
Erin has dedicated the past twenty years of her career to strengthening nonprofit organizations. She holds national certification in Nonprofit Leadership through the Lodestar Center for Philanthropy and Innovation. In her previous roles she served as Executive Director of a seventeen-organization strategic alliance, secured a multimillion dollar community grant for the Phoenix area, administered the Arizona Department of Economic Security Volunteer Services contract, and served with the Points of Light Foundation. She currently resides in Franklin with her two children and enjoys working with this community towards a time when no children go hungry.
Please join us at the Annual Breakfast to celebrate a year of amazing growth for Our Neighbors' Table! We are on track to serve 1 million meals this year, nearly double what we served in 2016. This incredible impact is thanks to the support ONT receives from the community. Tickets and sponsorships to the Annual Breakfast are still available, click here to purchase.
Our Neighbors' Table Annual Breakfast
Learn more about ONT's programs and services.
ONT provided 550,000 meals to neighbors in need in 2016. Read our annual report for more details.
You, too, can support ONT's programs. Make a donation today!
By Rebekah C. Doughty
“They were short-handed and needed a couple more volunteers, so I got up off the couch and headed down,” said Plouff. “I’ve been here every Wednesday since.”
Nine years later, Plouff has become part of the ONT family and formed some close friendships with the guests and his peers – the other 45 diligent volunteers who prepare and serve dinner each Wednesday night at Our Neighbors’ Table.
“When it’s slow, we sit and chit chat,” said Plouff, who hand-delivers to-go meals and a friendly smile to a couple of his regular guests. “I love the interaction. It’s part of our role here.”
“His eyes light up when he sees all the cakes,” said Elliot, who often handles the dessert station. “His grandmother often says to him, ‘Aren’t we lucky to get such a good meal?’”
Our Neighbors’ Table is located in Amesbury but serves 12 surrounding towns. It began in 1992 with a spaghetti dinner attended by eight guests. Today, the organization provides a hot meal consisting of soup, a main entrée with side items, dessert and a to-go meal to anywhere between 100 and 150 guests each Wednesday evening. Each table even has its own fresh-baked bread basket, thanks to a handful of regular Tuesday volunteers, and a dedicated server who brings drinks to order and second helpings.
“This is a restaurant-quality meal,” said Jim Miller, ONT’s meal manager. “Tonight we’re serving steak tips, rice and stir-fry veggies and a shrimp and corn chowder. We’re really upping the quality of the food.”
A former chef and culinary professor, Miller took over the role a little over a year ago and enjoys lending his expertise to serve the greater good.
“If we rotated between meatloaf, roasted pork, baked fish and chicken, our guests would be happy,” Miller said. “But this isn’t a soup kitchen. We’re trying to get rid of the stigma and just provide an inviting place for folks to come and have a nice meal.”
Our Neighbor’s Table is spending most of 2017 celebrating its 25th anniversary. According to Executive Director Lyndsey Haight, the anniversary has provided her the opportunity for reflection.
“There’s something truly special about this community,” shares Haight. “When the average tenure of a volunteer is 10 years or more, you can’t deny there’s something special about this place. From 8 to 88, volunteers from all walks of life have brought their hearts and souls to create a welcoming place for all. Collectively, they have put more than 5 million meals on the table for neighbors in need.”
“It’s become much more professional and organized,” Bob says of watching the ONT market grow. “The food we throw away in this country doesn’t make sense. This restores my faith in humanity.”
Bob recalls walking a young couple to their car with their groceries one day and learning that neither of them had eaten in a couple of days. Another guest was shocked when she learned she could return to the market weekly for more food.
“I see a lot of things here that touch me. Someone will get something for a neighbor in need. Here they are in trouble themselves and they’re helping someone else,” Bob said. “I definitely think I get more out of it than I put in.”
Plouff also remembers one family who really pulled at his heart. A young mom of four whose children always said please and thank you.
“She told me one time – ‘It’s just nice to be able to tell the kids to eat as much as they want.”
Celebrate 25 years of nourishing food, kindness and service with dignity with a gift to support ONT's programs today.
Hunger affects 1 out of every 16 people living in northeastern Essex County. Even more staggering, 1 out of every 5 of our seniors and 1 out of every 8 children are struggling through each day without enough food. Our Neighbors’ Table provides hunger relief to nearly 600 households every week through our local, mobile and home-delivery grocery programs and our Wednesday Meal.
Operating since 1992, ONT has increased the amount of food provided to the community by more than 100% since 2012, distributing 650,000 pounds of food (the equivalent of 500,000 meals) in 2015 alone. The hallmark of ONT’s programs is providing fresh produce, meat and dairy products that are most expensive or inaccessible to struggling residents. Fresh foods, sourced both from GBFB and local growers, made up more than half of all food distributed at ONT last year, including 100,000 pounds of fresh fruits and vegetables grown within 15 miles of ONT.
“We could not possibly keep up with the growing need in our community without our partnership with The Greater Boston Food Bank. We bring approximately 15,000 pounds of food from GBFB to our warehouse every week,” shares Lyndsey Haight, ONT Executive Director. “We’ve made fresh food a priority here at ONT five years ago. We are proud and grateful to have GBFB and our local growers as partners toward this goal.”
ONT is in good company as other 2016 GBFB award recipients include Walmart, The Stop & Shop Supermarket Company, Gold Medal Bakery, Liberty Mutual, Senator Benjamin Downing, Representative Marjorie Decker, RSA Media, and Davio’s owner Steve DiFilippo.
ONT’s grocery programs serve residents of Amesbury, Boxford, Byfield, Georgetown, Groveland, Merrimac, Newbury, Newburyport, Salisbury, West Newbury, Rowley and South Hampton (NH). Their Wednesday Meal is open to all.
Since our very first year of operation, ONT has sourced food through state-funded resources, like the Department of Education meals programs in the 1990’s and later through state and federal funded food stocks offered at regional food banks. Today, approximately 20% of the food we provide comes through the MEFAP line item of the state budget and the TEFAP line item in the federal budget.
Did you know that each year, ONT serves more than 100 military veterans and their families? We can’t do that alone. For ten years, ONT has contracted with the Department of Veterans Services to provide emergency assistance to local veterans. What started as sporadic aid in times of crisis has become ongoing assistance to help our military families and aging veterans make ends meet. Thankfully, our State Representative Jim Kelcourse, with support from our State Senator Kathleen O’Connor Ives, has championed our work and doubled our funding to keep pace with the growing need.
In 2016, ONT is excited about our newest partnership, working with the City of Amesbury and Town of Merrimac under the Community Development Block Grant to help serve low- and moderate-income residents. Last year, ONT served 1 out of every 10 residents of Amesbury and 1 out of every 30 Merrimac residents. Each year, we see hundreds of new families and individuals from these communities. CDBG money will be used to curb the cost the growing number of people turning to ONT for food assistance.
Partnerships with state and local government doesn’t just bring funding, they are also effective tools to help us reach people in need. ONT has been partnering with the Councils on Aging and Housing Authorities in Amesbury and Merrimac for nearly 10 years. We’ve worked together to identify local residents, especially seniors and people with disabilities who are struggling without enough food. Through creativity and collaboration, we’ve been providing on-site mobile pantries at Amesbury’s Heritage Towers and Powow Villa for nearly 10 years and home delivery services to residents who are homebound since 2010. In Merrimac, we now fully support the food inventory for the Council on Aging’s pantry and delivery program, while the COA provides space for our mobile distribution to residents of Merrimac.
As we continue to leverage the new Jardis-Taylor Center to increase our capacity, we look to developing similar relationships and creative partnerships with public departments across our service region to reach our neighbors who have yet to find their way to our doors.
And, I wasn’t disappointed - two and a half days chock-full of seminars addressing a wide variety of issues affecting our country’s safety net for people who are food insecure; the opportunity to learn from experts in our field, including Kathryn Edin, co-author of Two Dollars a Day, (another must read!); and meetings with the staff of each of our U.S. Senators Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey… and a surprise visit with Congressman Seth Moulton!
Sounds like enough excitement for one conference, but, it was the session I attended called Food is Medicine – Improving Health through Healthcare Partnerships that provided me with resources that I hope will prove invaluable to future programs at Our Neighbors’ Table.
Health care providers are becoming increasingly aware that an important piece of improving patients’ health is addressing food insecurity, and many physicians and hospitals around the country have taken a preventive approach by actively screening for food insecurity, and offering services to address them. Building partnerships between healthcare providers and community service organizations like Our Neighbors’ Table is a model that has seen a great deal of success across the country.
During this session, I had the opportunity to meet with Lynn Knox, who has implemented such a program at the Oregon Food Bank. She generously shared materials that should be very helpful to ONT, should we decide to implement a Healthcare partnership model here in our service region. As we look for creative ways to reach people in our service area, these tools and relationships will provide a strong foundation for effective programs.
So, all in all, this trip to Washington far exceeded any expectations that I could have hoped for at the outset. I felt assured by our Senators’ and Representative’s commitment to helping our most vulnerable citizens. And I look forward to putting to use the resources I picked up from colleagues across the country.
Do you work for a local doctor’s office? Are interested in helping us implement a Healthcare partnership model in our area? If so, please contact Lori Townsend.
Check out this brief video from Feeding America on the relationship between health and food insecurity.
They come to Our Neighbors' Table and there they get help and they also learn.
You will find the people there are friendly and kind
In today's world that is such a rare find.
People from all walks of life have been making the time to share
For at Our Neighbors' Table you are always welcome there.
The old, the young, and everyone in between
At Our Neighbors' Table today can be seen.
And there is so much more to Our Neighbors' Table than many ever see
There is compassion, hope, help and company for you, for me.
Volunteers will see what it is like to be someone in need
And see the faces, hear the stories of those whom your donations feed.
So give a little bit of your time to lend a hand
For at Our Neighbors' Table volunteers are always in demand
Please donate, drop by, help out, come by today
For you will feel much better
After making a difference to someone somehow in some way.
Imagine trying to get your life in order, but you don't have enough money to purchase toilet paper, soap, shampoo, or toothpaste. Imagine having to go for a job interview, but you haven't been able to brush your teeth for a week. Imagine your daughter's classmate trying to fit in, but facing ridicule because she has not been able to wash her hair. What would this do to your self confidence? At the core of ONT's mission is to serve our neighbors with kindness and dignity. Offering toiletries in our weekly pantry is just as important as providing food. These personal care items feed our guests' sense of confidence and personal dignity and support their overall health. Even if a family receives WIC or SNAP (food stamps), these benefits cannot be used to purchase essentials like soap and toilet paper.
Our pantry is very low on toiletries. We need your help to continue to nurture our guests' sense of self. The next time you are shopping or clipping coupons for discounts on toothpaste or shampoo, please consider buying a few extra items for our pantry. Donations can be dropped off at our office Monday through Saturday or put in donation bins located at Citizens Bank/Stop & Shop or Vermette's Market. For more information about toiletries in our food pantry, please feel free to contact our Pantry Director, Lori Townsend.