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!
Our Neighbors’ Table’s grocery programs remain open in the curbside pick-up. Our priority is and will continue to be ensuring people have consistent, reliable access to food as safely as possible.
ONT shifted to an entirely curbside model for grocery distribution on March 2020 and will remain operating in the curbside pick-up model for the foreseeable future. Guests can pre-order groceries online and schedule the time to pick-up. If you cannot order online, please call 978-388-1907 to place your order. Groceries will be delivered directly to your car during your scheduled pick-up time. If you cannot leave your house, please have someone pick up for you. If you need delivery, please call 978-388-1907.
Ordering is for next day pick-up. We're sorry but we cannot process same-day pick-ups. Please place your order by 3:00pm the day before you want to pick it up. New guests must fill out a guest registration form before ordering and allow 24 hours for processing.
Curbside pick-up will be available at the following locations.
Amesbury Market - Our Neighbors' Table, 194 Main Street
Wednesday Meal - Main Street Congregational Church, 145 Main Street, Amesbury
In addition to ONT's programs, we are maintaining an updated list of food resources across the region. You can view this list online or download a copy to your computer. Remember to check back regularly as things continue to change.
To do our part to minimize risk of infection and to allay fears of exposure in our community, ONT is taking the following steps:
How can you help?
Lyndsey Haight, Executive Director, x11
Lori Townsend, Program Director, x12
None of us could have dreamed of the reality we all face today. Without notice, our schools had to close, local businesses had to be shuttered, and life seemed to turn completely upside down.
In the last 2 weeks, I've spoken to longtime ONT volunteers who are afraid to leave their homes; a mother who, along with her husband, has just lost her job and is worried about keeping it together for their 2 children; a woman who was supposed to start her job as a census worker and now has no income to pay her rent; a retired veteran who lives alone, with no children, who is glad he can come to ONT, even if it's just pulling up in his car, to see some friendly faces.
These conversations remind me that Our Neighbors' Table is more than just the food on our shelves, ONT has always been a source of community and connectedness. Something we are all craving right now. My late grandmother always had a fondness for lighthouses. In these stormy times, I want you to know ONT is here to be a beacon of hope and light. All of our work over the last 28 years has prepared us to be a lighthouse for our community.
And now, I need to ask everyone who can, to pitch in. If you can give $10, give $10. If you can give $1,000 or more, now is the time. Join our Breakfast Club to make your donation in monthly installments.
Our priority is and will continue to be ensuring people have consistent, reliable access to food, and, as always, to do it with kindness. To do this we have had to completely change our program operations to keep our guests healthy and safe. After spending 4 years growing our markets, this week we had to close their doors and shift to an exclusively curbside model with very little preparation time.
Here’s a glimpse of what that change has meant in 1 week:
These last two weeks were hard, but now the real work begins. Now we will be serving a surge of new neighbors who face economic uncertainty in the coming weeks and months. In addition to the 600 households we were already serving each week, we've already registered 65 new households (with nearly 200 mouths to feed) just since March 16.
Our neighbors are counting on ONT when they have nowhere else to turn. Are you in a position to help? Every dollar matters, please give what you can.
Be well and take care,
With spring fast approaching (hopefully!), Our Neighbors' Table is looking to our annual tradition of giving out Easter baskets filled with toys and candy to our families with children. It's a small touch that brings a lot of happiness to children (and their parents) this time of year.
But in order to make it happen, we need YOUR help! There are 2 ways to help, by giving time and/or items for the baskets.
1. Fill a Child’s Easter Basket
2. Volunteer to help assemble Easter Baskets – KID FRIENDLY!
Thank you in advance for your help in bringing Easter joy to our local children and families this spring!
Thank you for making food security a priority in 2019, for elevating food insecurity as a real issue in our community and for putting the investments in to address this fixable problem. Thank you for making it possible for us to serve more than 4,500 of your neighbors, providing them with fresh, wholesome foods when and where they need it. The year ahead holds ambitious goals to spread food security across our region and I hope you’ll stick with us.
The USDA defines Food Security as consistent access to enough food for an active, healthy lifestyle. Our work, to-date, has been laser-focused on:
1. Enough food. ONT’s approach leaves behind the traditional food pantry model and replaces it with the traditional grocery store model – you come in weekly, you pick out the foods you like to and can eat, and you get as much of it as you need to feed your family. In 2019, ONT distributed 1.38 million pounds of food, two-thirds of which were high quality produce, meats, fish, and dairy.
2. Food to support a healthy lifestyle. Walk into any ONT market and you will immediately notice that fresh fruits and vegetables take center-stage. Guests shopping in our markets have long told us that they want to eat more fresh foods, but they simply can’t afford it. ONT is proud to partner with more than 2 dozen local growers and community gardens to bring fresh produce to our markets. Our partnership with the Greater Boston Food Bank and local food rescue partners have ensured that every shopper has year-round access to these foods. Foods they need and want to live an active, healthy lifestyle.
Now, 2020 will be the year we focus on tying it all together with the most important factor that separates temporary relief of hunger from true food security: Consistency.
Access to food today means you’re not hungry now. Reliable, consistent access to enough, quality food every day means you are food secure. From expanding our community markets, to providing tools to our pediatricians and educators to connect people to food, to shuttles from the Salisbury and Groveland Councils on Aging to the Amesbury market, we’re breaking down barriers so people can have access to food every day.
As we work together toward the goal of a food secure region, can you help us build consistency? This year, we are seeking to build our Breakfast Club, those giving across 12-months a year, ensuring our resources are ready and available whenever our neighbors need us. Last year, the Breakfast Club grew to nearly 100 members. Our goal this year is to get to at least 150. Is this the year you can build food security into your everyday life?
We’re ready to make the promise of food security. As I personally celebrate a decade here at ONT, I’m looking forward to the possibilities our future holds.
Wishing you a happy, healthy and food secure 2020,
Get your kids involved with ONT's mission!
Did you know you can volunteer at the ONT Market with your children? ONT’s WEE Can Help! program provides a wonderful opportunity for children ages 4-10 to come in for a Market Stocking shift! WEE Can Help! volunteers perform the important task of restocking our shelves after the Market has closed on Wednesdays from 4-5pm. This is a great chance for parents to teach their children about giving back to their community in a kid-friendly space. Find out more information here!
If you’re looking for an opportunity that is suitable for both individuals and groups, consider Fill ‘Em Up Bags! The goal for each person participating in Fill ‘Em Up Bags is to raise $30, which provides dinner to a child for a whole month! Each participant decorates their Fill ‘Em Up Bag, then ask friends and family to help fill the bag. Learn more about how your child can make a difference!
If you have any questions about family opportunities, please email Melanie or call her (978) 388-1907 x21.
Volunteer Spotlight - Rose Cole
Meet Rose Cole, a volunteer who wears many different hats at Our Neighbors’ Table. Rose heard about Our Neighbors’ Table through word of mouth, and first got involved in 2015 when ONT was headquartered out of the Main Street Congregational Church. Now, Rose volunteers every Thursday at the Newburyport Market, as well as every Friday doing check-in for the Amesbury Market, and Rose serves on the Volunteer Appreciation Committee. Rose says one of her favorite things about ONT is the camaraderie among volunteers, “When there’s a volunteer who has something going on in their life-- others help out. It feels really good to be a part of that.”
Rose was key in helping to start ONT’s Newburyport Market in 2018. ONT’s Mobile Market Manager Tracy Kane says, “It took a lot to get the Newburyport Market off the ground, and more importantly to show new guests coming to it that they were welcomed and safe. Rose was extremely helpful and patient while we got all that going, helping to demonstrate ONT’s core values.” Read more about Rose in this month's Volunteer Spotlight!
News & Events
Save the Dates! Planning your 2020 calendar? Be sure to pencil in these ONT events so you don't miss them!
Meet Rose Cole, a volunteer who wears many different hats at Our Neighbors’ Table. Rose heard about Our Neighbors’ Table through word of mouth, and first got involved in 2015 when ONT was headquartered out of the Main Street Congregational Church. A few years later, Rose retired from her work doing bookkeeping and she began volunteering more regularly at ONT’s brand new location at the Jardis-Taylor Center. Now, Rose volunteers every Thursday at the Newburyport Market, as well as every Friday doing check-in for the Amesbury Market, and Rose serves on the Volunteer Appreciation Committee. Rose says one of her favorite things about ONT is the camaraderie among volunteers, “When there’s a volunteer who has something going on in their life-- others help out. It feels really good to be a part of that.”
Rose was key in helping to start ONT’s Newburyport Market in 2018. ONT’s Mobile Market Manager Tracy Kane says, “It took a lot to get the Newburyport Market off the ground, and more importantly to show new guests coming to it that they were welcomed and safe. Rose was extremely helpful and patient while we got all that going, helping to demonstrate ONT’s core values.” Rose has helped with hosting the last two year’s Volunteer Appreciation BBQs in June. Rose says “I like to think about what other volunteers do, and how to honor them.”
When Rose isn’t at ONT, she likes to garden and get lunch with her girlfriends. Rose and her husband spend about a month in Florida in February or March each year. Rose has been treasurer for the last five years of a group called “Amesbury for Africa” which partners with a village in Kenya. Rose has visited Esabalu, Kenya twice.
Next time you’re at ONT on a Friday morning, say hi to Rose!
Did you know you can volunteer at the ONT Market with your children? ONT’s WEE Can Help! program provides a wonderful opportunity for children ages 4-10 to come in for a Market Stocking shift! Young volunteers perform the important task of restocking our shelves on Wednesdays from 4-5pm. This is a great chance for parents to teach their children about giving back to their community in a kid-friendly space.
The program is limited to ensure the best experience for every volunteer. All children must be accompanied by an adult that has attended volunteer orientation prior to coming in for a shift. If you have not attended an orientation yet but would like to, please fill out an online volunteer application here. WEE Can Help! is ideal for individual families rather than large groups.
If you’re looking for an opportunity that is suitable for both individuals and groups, consider Fill ‘Em Up Bags! All are welcome to participate in this program at any age, whether they’ve been through orientation or not.
The goal for each person participating in Fill ‘Em Up Bags is to raise $30. This would provide dinner to a child for a whole month! Each participant will decorate their Fill ‘Em Up Bag, then ask friends and family to help fill the bag. No donation is too small. $1 or $10, every donation counts! (Please do not collect food items. Checks made out to Our Neighbors’ Table also accepted.)
Ready to get started? Download the Fill ‘Em Up Bag logo, color it, and attach it to the bag (brown bag, grocery bag, gift bag, etc.). Once you’re finished fundraising, contact Melanie to arrange a time to drop-off. We’d love to give your kids a tour so they can see the impact of their donations!
If you have any questions about any of the above, please don’t hesitate to email Melanie or call (978) 388-1907 x. 21.