Change is the Only Constant
It seems this old adage was written for the last 3 years. ONT continues to adapt and evolve to meet the changing landscape of food security. From health protocols to supply chain, ONT has had to adjust its operations to maintain its standard of service to our guests.
This Spring, we look forward to the next phase as we bring back in-person shopping and dining. External conditions continue to impact the risks of food insecurity. In 2022, inflation drove more and more people to our door, increasing new household registrations by 67% over 2021. In 2023, we face another crisis as pandemic-related SNAP funds are rolled back.
We are working diligently with our partners across the Lower Merrimack Valley to ensure that we have both a strategy and the infrastructure we need to continue to meet the need. Our Village is as important as ever. Stay informed, stay engaged, help us stay the course toward a food secure region.
Wishing you good health in 2023,
Food Security at Risk!
One-third of the households served by ONT is enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) that provides the household with a funded debit card that can be used to purchase retail food items. In 2020, Congress eliminated the pro-rated benefit allotment based on an income sliding scale and provided every eligible household the maximum benefit. ONT anticipated the expiration of this program in Summer 2022 with a prediction of surges in need that would have rivaled Summer 2020. However, Congress delayed this rollback through year-end, allowing ONT to respond to and meet inflation-driven demand.
This program is now ending and the final supplemental allotment will be sent to households in March, resulting in a loss of $90M PER MONTH from the Commonwealth’s economy come April. This will have a devastating impact on the local economy as more than 4,000 local households will lose a combined $665,000 every month. These funds helped seniors cover the costs of groceries so they could use their retirement income to cover property taxes and healthcare; families could keep their fridge stocked with healthy foods and still afford childcare and gas to get to work.
How will this affect the local economy, businesses and employment? This loss of spending power equates to a loss of $7.86M in annual revenue for local grocers. To make up for that loss in revenue, businesses will have to consider cost-saving measures. This lost revenue is equivalent to wages for 231 minimum wage employees, who may now be at risk of lay-offs, driving even more people into financial crisis and increasing food insecurity.
Read more about the SNAP Benefits Cliff here
The coming year hold exciting progress for ONT and our partners toward the creation of the Seacoast Regional Food Hub. The Hub will provide critical shared infrastructure and collaboration with over 25 food programs, working together to establish a food secure region.
Volunteer Spotlight: Jessica Switzer
Jessica Switzer has been involved with Our Neighbors’ Table as a Spoon Platoon Member since before the pandemic. She started volunteering here in September as a way to further support her neighbors, while setting a good example for her children. “I have a 10 year old and a 12 year old. I want them to see that their parents are doing good because then they will grow up to do good..” Jessica is a staple of our evening Grocery Packer position, where she pre packages grocery orders that are distributed by the Newburyport COA. The evening grocery packing group works together after hours, which has brought them closer together. “I’ve made a lot of friends here. It feels like a community and people are excited to see each other. We always have fun and we always get our job done.”
When asked about her most memorable moment as a volunteer, Jessica shared a story about a community member coming in for a “food emergency” situation. She was blown away by the amount of care and consideration put into her well being. “There were questions asked such as ‘are you safe’ and ‘do you need food immediately?’ She left with a lot of food and knowledge about various offerings in our community."
Jessica grew up in the Metro Los Angeles area before moving to Newburyport about 15 years ago. While living in California, she started a charity group named “Hearts and Hands” which allowed highschool students to fulfill their community service requirements at school. The group would sort food donations for local pantries as a way of serving without being on site.
Jessica is the Director of APAC Distributions at Cell Signaling Technologies. She has been with the company for over 20 years and currently serves as the chair of the Community Grants Program, which oversees their staff volunteer efforts. During the last week of February, Jessica and her coworkers have a conference in Singapore, where they will also be volunteering at a food pantry! Outside of work, Jessica enjoys cooking, riding her bike around town, and traveling to learn about other cultures and perspectives. Thank you for everything you do in your community, Jessica!