People's Pantry volunteers Silke Aisenbrey, Jenny Schwartz and Rees Shad. The Great Barrington food pantry is hoping to raise $300,000 to cover the rising need for its services.

The People's Pantry Launches First Fundraiser in 23 Years

By Brittany Polito
iBerkshires Staff
04:30AM / Monday, June 27, 2022

GREAT BARRINGTON, Mass. — The People's Pantry has launched its first fundraiser in more than 20 years of operating with a goal of raising $300,000. This money will allow it to feed the community for the rest of 2022.

A drastic increase in need coupled with inflation has led the organization to this venture.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the pantry fed around 500 individuals a month and now it feeds more than 2,000.

Expenses have also dramatically risen, with its operating budget increasing by 500 percent between 2018 and 2021.

"The numbers have just skyrocketed," said Rees Shad, a member of the nonprofit's communications committee..

The Help-Fill-The-Bag drive is hoping to raise enough funds to help keep things moving for the next seven months.

"We're shooting for $300,000," Shad said.

"If our costs don't change and our numbers don't change, that's maybe $20,000 more than we estimate we're going to have to pay and prices are going to go up."

The nonprofit is seeing the effect of rising costs on basic human needs such as fuel, housing, and food on both ends. The pandemic housing boom and a lack of affordable housing options have caused more people to come through the pantry's doors. Additionally, it now costs more money to obtain the food to feed these people.  

The pantry reported that Massachusetts is the second most expensive state to buy groceries in the contiguous United States, with New York as the first. Feeding America reports that 1 in 12 people in the state face hunger and 1 in 11 children face hunger.

Another source of increased expense is the pantry's effort to purchase locally sourced food whenever possible. This is to support the local agricultural economy, reduce its environmental impact in terms of transportation, and help preserve open spaces in Berkshire and neighboring counties.

This means that the meats, eggs, dairy, cheeses, and bread are largely coming from local agricultural providers.

"This reduces our impact in terms of transportation, but it also it increases our involvement in the local food economy, which I think is really really important," Shad said.

"A lot of the time food pantries can be seen as this place where free food is given away, so who's not getting paid, and that's not the way we're working, which is really really wonderful. So we're paying into the local food economy, we're contributing to local [agriculture] and keeping open spaces happening here. And we're feeding folks who just can't afford to put food on the table the way they could have."

The pantry began in 1999 to respectfully address food insecurity.  It strives to help create an environment that contributes to the building of healthy lives for individuals and families to strengthen the community.

Big Y and Guido's Fresh Marketplace have been consistent suppliers by providing food by providing culls and notifying the pantry when popular products are on sale.  Guido's also allows the pantry to have wholesale purchase from Boston and transports it at their expense.

The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts provides the pantry with shelf-stable items and Berkshire Bounty and Berkshire Grown have connected it to local agriculture.

Shad said Vice President of Operations Anne Hutchinson also continually sources local suppliers such as Berkshire Mountain Bakery.

He also emphasized that there is a large population of residents over age 65 in the area who are living on a fixed income.  

"Everybody is coming to the door," Shad said, explaining that the folks in need do not fit into a given demographic.

The People's Pantry prides itself on having low administrative costs so that it can turn more than 85 cents of every dollar donated into food for the community.

Up until about two years ago, the nonprofit was completely volunteer-based.  A part-time manager was hired for 10 paid hours a week to greet clients during open hours.  The manager Jenny Schwartz serves in multiple other capacities at the pantry.

Even the facilities were donated by the owners of St. James' Place, where the pantry is located on the lower level.

"It's a pretty powerful thing to be involved with," Shad said.

The focus of the fundraiser is to raise money for upcoming operations, which can be done through the People's Pantry website. People looking to help can also volunteer or donate food through bins outside of the facility.

Interacting with the nonprofit on social media such as Facebook and Instagram is also a way to show support. As part of the Communications Committee, Shad has been creating informative and appealing videos to get the word out about the organization.


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