A healthy staff. Passionate volunteers. A community committed to keeping everyone fed – even in a pandemic. YOU. My family. And the few minutes of serenity I can find here and there. These are all things I’m thankful for this holiday season.
Since my last note to you in August, we’ve registered 303 new guests, including 74 children and 63 seniors, to our grocery programs. Every one of them have been welcomed without question, shop for their groceries online, and have been able to put 15,000 meals on their tables. Including turkeys and all the Thanksgiving fixings.
The holidays are a time for us to give thanks and celebrate with our loved ones. Holidays can also be a time of sorrow and loneliness, particularly this year. Over the last two months, we’ve been highlighting the Unity in our Community, and there’s no better time to keep this at the forefront of our minds than during the holidays. On social media, we’re sharing holiday traditions that we can share virtually or that remind us of our friends and family while we’re apart. I invite you to share yours with us! Simple things like a good ol’ fashion phone call, dropping off a side dish, or a handwritten card go a long way to let your neighbors know you care. If you’re inclined, you could even consider a virtual Friendsgiving or holiday party using ONT’s online virtual food drive page. Like everything else, the 2020 holidays will be different this year. But one thing remains – the strong commUNITY that bonds us.
Stay safe, be well, and spread joy,
Annual Breakfast Celebrates Unity in Community
This year, while we could not gather in-person for the Annual Breakfast, it was more critical than ever for ONT to share how we are meeting the unprecedented need across the region. ONT's Annual Breakfast was broadcast live from the Market at the Jardis-Taylor Center on October 20. This Breakfast'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 well as viewers saw that universal food access is possible, even in a pandemic, when a community comes together. Thanks to a $10,000 challenge from presenting sponsor Institution for Savings, a record breaking $80,000 was raised! The recording of the broadcast is available if you'd like to view the inspiring morning.
News & Events
Volunteer Spotlight - Kathy Berman
Kathy Berman had been part of the ONT community as a donor for years. A Certified Public Accountant, Kathy says she had always planned to do “hands-on volunteering somewhere” when she retired. Once she cut back her work hours to part time, she decided to join ONT’s volunteer team and donate her time as well. These days you can find Kathy in our non-perishables stocking room on Saturdays, filling guests’ orders. When Kathy saw how things worked behind the scenes at ONT, she felt good about her decision to be a regular member of the volunteer crew and a donor. “What amazes me about here is that the guests have a choice in food,” Kathy says. “It makes me proud. I’m proud of this place.” Read more about Kathy in this month's Volunteer Spotlight ››
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!
Kathy Berman had been part of the ONT community as a donor for years. A Certified Public Accountant, Kathy says she had always planned to do “hands-on volunteering somewhere” when she retired. Once she cut back her work hours to part time, she decided to join ONT’s volunteer team and donate her time as well. Kathy has helped out at our Wednesday meal, done customer service in the market, stocked shelves, and worked in the warehouse. These days you can find Kathy in our non-perishables stocking room on Saturdays, filling guests’ orders.
“I like the people I work with, the other volunteers and the guests,” Kathy says about how she enjoys coming to ONT. “I grew up poor, and we went without a lot, but we never had to worry about food, but I know there are so many people now who go without meals.”
The desire to be part of helping to feed her community is what keeps Kathy coming back to pack grocery bags for ONT’s guests. On those Saturdays when the alarm rings early and she wants to stay in bed, she remembers that “it’s feeding people,” and she always gets up and comes in to pack.
Once Kathy saw how things worked behind the scenes at ONT, she felt good about her decision to be a regular member of the volunteer crew and a donor. “What amazes me about here is that the guests have a choice in food,” Kathy says. “It makes me proud. I’m proud of this place.” ONT couldn’t run without its dedicated volunteers like Kathy, and we’re proud of her too!
ONT's holiday programs offer a variety of special groceries to help families prepare a delicious holiday meal in their own home for Thanksgiving and Christmas.
If you are a new guest and have never shopped with ONT before, please visit our new guest registration page to get signed up for the holidays.
New this year, registration will not be necessary for current ONT guests. You will simply order your groceries online as usual the week before Thanksgiving and schedule your pick-up for the following day. You will see the available holiday groceries included in your choice of selections that week (including Thanksgiving turkey or chicken and a $10 gift card).
There will be extended grocery pick-up hours for Thanksgiving grocery distribution.
Just like Thanksgiving, pre-registration is not required for current ONT guests. The extra holiday groceries and $10 gift card will be available when you place your grocery order the week before Christmas. We do not have turkeys or chickens for Christmas.
There will be extended grocery pick-up hours for Christmas grocery distribution on the following days:
Meeting the Need Head-On
Lyndsey Haight, Executive Director
While COVID-19 has not directly affected the physical health of most residents in our region, the economic and emotional toll has been astounding. The average unemployment rate for our 12 cities and towns over April, May and June 2020 tops 14%, compared to 2.45% one year ago. Even at the height of the recession, local unemployment average for the region in 2010 was only 7.5%.
Families who were gainfully employed only 6 months ago now rely on stimulus checks, SNAP and programs like Our Neighbors’ Table. With your support, ONT has been able to meet the need head-on and has proudly supported our partners in school districts and councils on aging across the region in working creatively and collaboratively to get food to people every day. From January 1 to July 31, ONT’s grocery programs distributed 845,000 pounds of wholesome foods to 4214 people across the region (up 11% and 24% respectively over last year).
How can we keep up with this increase of demand? Because our community is committed to ensuring everyone’s basic needs are met, even in a global crisis. You are each proving the “Unity” in Community. In just the first 90 days following the shutdown, more than 900 new donors reached out to support ONT’s work. Collectively, as local businesses were struggling, individuals in every community stepped forward and contributed a record $300,000 to keep food on the table for ONT’s guests.
“Uncertainty” seems to be the guiding principle for the near future. But there are 2 things I know for certain: 1) As this crisis continues, need for food assistance will continue to increase; and 2) ONT and its supporters will be here to respond. September is Hunger Action Month. I ask you to continue your resolve, reach out to friends and neighbors who need help, support our efforts by raising awareness, hosting virtual food drives, and, when you can, making a donation. We will continue to win this fight as we work in unity to keep our neighbors food-secure.
September is Hunger Action Month!
Join us for the Annual Breakfast Broadcast!
Volunteer Spotlight - Eve Lee
Eve Lee was not familiar with Our Neighbors’ Table when she was invited by a friend to attend ONT’s Annual Breakfast in October of 2016. “I saw all of the amazing things happening at this impactful organization and the amazing people that were involved and I was hooked,” Eve said of her first breakfast experience. She started volunteering in the Market a couple of Saturdays a month, which accommodated her travel schedule for her job in marketing at a medical device company. Soon Eve found herself on the fundraising committee, where she chaired and created ONT’s Fill ‘Em Up Fest. After joining the board in 2018, she started her term as board chair in June of this year. But her weekly volunteering in the Market remains a priority for her. Read more about Eve in this month's Volunteer Spotlight!
Eve Lee was not familiar with Our Neighbors’ Table when she was invited by a friend to attend ONT’s Annual Breakfast in October of 2016. “I saw all of the amazing things happening at this impactful organization and the amazing people that were involved and I was hooked,” Eve said of her first breakfast experience. She started volunteering in the Market a couple of Saturdays a month, which accommodated her travel schedule for her job in marketing at a medical device company. Soon Eve found herself on the fundraising committee, where she chaired and created ONT’s Fill ‘Em Up Fest. After joining the board in 2018, she started her term as board chair in June of this year. But her weekly volunteering in the Market remains a priority for her.
“I love working up front at the Market check-in and now at the outside pickup line because I get to interact with guests and get to know them as my neighbors,” Eve said. “Now I even recognize their cars when they drive up!”
Eve had been active with other food security organizations when she lived in Boston, but she says that ONT’s sense of community, where volunteers, guests and staff come together to form a community, feels different than any other place she has volunteered. As board chair, she looks forward to having even more people join the ONT community. “I think more people have realized during the pandemic just how many of our neighbors are on the brink of food insecurity,” Eve said. “And a potential good thing to come out of this situation is that more folks will want to volunteer or financially support organizations like ONT.”
P.S. This year’s Annual Breakfast will be broadcast on Oct. 20. Don’t miss this inspirational event that first hooked Eve!
By Lyndsey Haight, Executive Director, Our Neighbors' Table
“I’ve done everything I can to not have to come here. I’m sorry. I will only take a few things and hopefully won’t have to come too often.” These are the words that we hear almost universally from people coming to get food at Our Neighbors’ Table for the first time. The sacrifices guests make before they walk into our doors for the first time - from cutting out fresh fruits and vegetables, to putting groceries on credit cards, skipping prescription refills in order to buy groceries, or simply not eating for days on end so their children can eat – are substantial. Yet, walking through the door to ask for help is never easy.
If you’ve been to an ONT volunteer orientation, you’ve heard the stories; if you’ve volunteered at ONT, you’ve witnessed the guilt, shame and fear first-hand. You also understand it is our number one goal to make every single person feel welcomed and to lift the fear and feelings that may prevent them from coming back.
ONT’s work was founded on the values of Service with Dignity, Community and Respect. Our founders welcomed their neighbors to break bread together so no one went hungry, but more importantly to ensure no one felt they had to go it alone. For 28 years, ONT has been powered by helpers doing what they can, sharing what they have, and lifting each other up along the way, resulting in, perhaps, the first food-secure city in the nation. As they say, rising tides raise all ships. Even after nearly three decades, the perseverance of these values takes work. In 2011, we took the time to articulate them, make them part of our long-term strategies. In 2015, we began and continue training all of our staff and volunteers – new and tenured – to put these values into action. Every day, we ask ourselves if our decisions are aligned with these values and we expect our guests, our community to call us out if we go astray.
I love to meet new people and welcome them into our mission. Giving tours and sharing our work is a favorite part of my job. I’ve had the opportunity to sit with new guests and donors alike. And there is a striking difference in the conversations. While just about every guest tries to qualify their request for help, almost every single tour includes the questions: “How do you make sure people really need the help? Do they have to qualify?” In the course of 20 years, I have come to see there are various experiences that compel people to ask this question. Usually, those experiences are 3rd party, stories told, of someone taking advantage of the system. The person in line at the grocery store using food stamps to buy liquor. The breeding of dependency if we let people collect welfare. Maybe they are first-hand: ‘I know Mr. So-and-So comes to your dinner every week but he has money to buy his own food’. There are lots of different perceptions about people who ask for help. It has also been my experience that one shift at ONT getting to know your neighbors who shop here for food quickly replaces those perceptions with relationships, connectedness and, alas, a sense of community. I understand all this. The unknown. A knowledge vacuum filled in with information that may or may not be based in real life, but it fills a void until something else can.
But there is something else inherent in the questions about qualifying people to receive help. This question is rooted in the assumption that the help is mine to decide whether or not to share; that I have the power and authority – the right – to decide whether or not someone is worthy to receive food. This power dynamic is inevitable in every charitable food system dependent on the goodwill of a few. At the very core of Our Neighbors’ Table is the belief and practice that we are all deserving; that none of us is more or less deserving to receive help; and none of us is more or less deserving to control when and where help is given. The community invests its time and treasure in our mission because we all agree that food needs to be available to everyone and the community entrusts us to do just that. While many give to our mission under charitable motives, those who sustain our work know we are much more than a charitable food assistance organization; we strive toward universal food security, toward a just food system that serves us all. This can only be achieved when those of us who hold power over resources recognize that power and relinquish it and allow others to gain their own access.
True, we carry the burden of only having resources to serve 12 communities when we know our neighboring cities and towns could also use the help. We truly struggle with this every day we turn someone away. But, we have found a way to ensure that our region’s resources are distributed and available universally and our work every day is to achieve that to the best of our ability.
In the last month, we have all heard (and maybe even shouted) the cries for an end to racism and the systemic racism that permeates every aspect of American life. Many are organizing or continue their work centuries in the making, many others may be reflecting at home wondering what role might you have played, or what role you can play now. If you’re reading this, and wondering what you can do, I offer what we, at ONT, have come to know and strive to practice every day as it comes to serving our mission
From the Executive Director:
As I write, our world continues to change, affecting each of us differently. Right now is really hard, for so many, for so many different reasons. But it has been a call to action for many. From whichever chair you may be reading, I’d like to use this Table Talk to give you a moment of gratitude, hopefulness, and positivity. No matter what is happening in the world, I am grateful to spend every day here at ONT with the best of humanity. ONT’s spirit is still very present, no matter what our Market or Meal might physically look like. Volunteers and guests exchange warm smiles through the windshield, over the rims of their masks; friendly conversation rings through the phones; and online ordering gives a sliver of dignity and choice in a seemingly oppressive time.
In the last 5 years, we’ve been working to raise awareness of food insecurity. Together, we’ve invested in increasing food access, reducing the shame and stigma in seeking help, and ensuring that whether you are a single elder, or a young family getting on their feet, you never had to worry about your next meal. There is no greater test of our impact than a global public health and economic crisis. So how have we done?
Schools/A+ - Every one of the school districts mobilized to distribute free breakfast and lunch to all of their students within a week of closing.
Seniors/A+ – Councils on Aging, housing authorities and elder services kept meals on wheels and grocery delivery constant, even expanding as needed.
Leadership: A+ – Mayors, town managers and social service directors put food access at the top of their planning lists on day 1.
Community – A+ – YOU have reached out to offer your time, make donations, pick up an order for your neighbor, create apps so people could find food. When it mattered most, our community has rallied to keep food on every table.
Thurgood Marshall said “The measure of a country’s greatness is it’s ability to retain compassion in crisis.” Our commitment to take care of each other in good times has made it possible for our compassion to translate into food security even in this crisis. We continue to serve those who were already struggling, and, without hesitation, have opened our programs to hundreds more who are scraping by. Please, continue to beat this drum, letting your neighbors know we are here for them. We are here for you.
And for those of you who have so generously given what you can to this mission, including the more than 700 people who gave to ONT for the very first time, thank you. This crisis will eventually end. Our new reality is still yet to be defined. Our 2019 Annual Report highlights some of our finest moments pre-COVID; let’s commit to making them the hallmark of our future.
Be safe, be well, be kind.
Coronavirus Impact by the Numbers
Volunteer Spotlight - Heather McPeake
When Heather McPeake sat in ONT’s community room for volunteer orientation in the summer of 2018, she never imagined she would be in the same room; packing grocery orders in a face mask. Heather and her daughter came to ONT because they wanted to do something together to give back to their community. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Heather found herself working from her home in Amesbury 4 days a week for a law firm. “I hadn’t volunteered for awhile and I was feeling like I wanted to do something help during the crisis,” Heather said. And help she is! Heather has answered the call and is helping in 2 crucial areas of ONT’s program operations. Read this month's Volunteer Spotlight ››
News & Updates
Virtual Food Drives
You can help stock ONT's Market safely from home by hosting a virtual food drive! Instead of collecting items in person, you'll collect financial donations that ONT will use to provide guests with fruits, vegetables, dairy, meats and toiletries.
When Heather McPeake sat in ONT’s community room for volunteer orientation in the summer of 2018, she never imagined she would be in the same room; packing grocery orders in a face mask. Heather and her daughter came to ONT because she wanted to give back her community and do something meaningful with her teenage daughter. The two enjoyed volunteering together stocking shelves in the Market.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Heather found herself working from her home in Amesbury 4 days a week for a law firm. “I hadn’t volunteered for awhile and I was feeling like I wanted to do something help during the crisis,” Heather said. And help she is! Heather has answered the call and is helping in 2 crucial areas of ONT’s program operations. On Wednesdays, she helps pre-pack the dry goods for the Newburyport pick-up orders. Heather she loves the organization of checking off the packing list and making sure the guest gets everything they ordered.
Heather is also part of our remote support team, helping guest with their customized grocery orders over the phone if they don’t have internet access to place their order. “I love talking to the guests on the phone,” she said. “Everyone is so nice, you can tell how appreciative they are for ONT.” Despite the programmatic changes, Heather says that the ONT atmosphere is still the same. She loves the team spirit and working side by side (from a safe distance!) with her neighbors to help each other.
Heather and her husband have called Amesbury home for 15 years. When not at ONT, she loves to cook, do yoga and go for nature walks with her 15-year-old daughter. If you see her out walking her yorkie, Elsie, be sure to wave hello!
ONT's Mobile Market Manager Tracy Kane attended the 2017 National Anti-Hunger Policy Conference in March.
ONT's work is directly impacted by legislation at the state and federal level. From funding for food banks to purchase food, to the safety net that our community members rely on when they can't earn enough to pay the bills, strong policies and programs are important to make sure no one in our community is going hungry. Sunday March 4 – Monday March 5th of Conference (Days 1 and 2):
Over a breakfast meeting, I eagerly joined some of my fellow constituents from The North Shore Hunger Network (NSHN). The NSHN is a coalition of hunger-relief organizations, who by joining forces, are dedicated to serving Boston’s North Shore efforts in building food security. Accompanying me this year in representing the NSHN at F.R.A.C., were my peers from Beverly Boot Strap’s and Gloucester’s Open Door.
As I looked around the conference I was inspired to be under the same roof with over 1,300 people who were all fighting for the same cause. There were representatives from all avenues of the anti-hunger effort – be it on the front lines as case workers or individuals running Food Pantries, Mobile Markets and Food Banks to those behind the scenes working as legal advisors, advocates or policy lobbyists. We were all soldiers working for the people, all woven with the same thread and united by a common goal to learn new and better ways to help more people.
Throughout the first two days of the conference I took a total of 6 different workshops on topics including partnering with health care providers, the effects of the economy and policy on food insecurity, addressing the needs of a growing aging population, and how to work with legislators on policies to support food security.
Hill Day, March 6:
As an attendee of the conference, I had the opportunity to join peers from across the country for Hunger on the Hill Day. The North Shore Hunger Network met with representatives from Senators Markey and Warren's offices. Our visits focused on strengthening the security net of SNAP, Child and Senior Nutrition Programs and Emergency Food Assistance Programs - all of which are critical parts of keeping people in our region fed each day.
I had a wealth of prepared reports, statistics, and information about the programs at ONT and the people we serve. But, most importantly, I wanted to share the stories of ONT's guests - constituents who are represented by our Representatives and Senators in Washington, DC.
Kate*, a single working mom comes regularly to our market. She told us that before she started coming to ONT she would feel “sick to her stomach” as she watched her daughter open the refrigerator door only to find it “empty - with nothing but a bright light shining back at her”. Now she shops with us and her daughter has plenty of food.
ONT is serving many more elderly guests. A few weeks ago, while I loaded her bags of groceries into her car, Nancy* felt the need to explain to me why she was shopping with us. She explained that she used to work two jobs, but then she fell and broke her hip, a year later she lost her husband to cancer, a year after that she lost her home - and now here she is – struggling without enough food and shopping in our market.
I closed my meeting with the representatives, and reflected for myself: the faces of the hungry look just like the faces of all of our neighbors. The two guests whose stories I shared were so appreciative of ONT and have expressed that simply being able to put food on their tables has changed their lives in incomprehensible ways.