Since 2011 First Baptist Church in JP has offered two sit down meals per week for those facing food insecurity, but COVID-19 has forced them to shift to delivering meals to keep the community safe.
First Baptist Pastor Ashlee Wiest-Laird said that the food distribution started in mid-March, when things began to shut down due to the virus.
The program started as pick-up only, then shifted to delivery. Currently, the church is delivering meals to 350 people three times a week.
The church originally put out a Google Form on Facebook for interested people to sign up for food. “It filled up really quickly,” Wiest-Laird said. After that initial form went out, word of mouth took care of spreading information about the food deliveries. “We haven’t had to do much promotion,” she said, and added that they just added a new distribution this past Saturday to try and get people off of the waiting list. There is also a walk-up option on Friday afternoon where people can come pick up their own food.
She said that the Church’s Minister of Hospitality helps to cook the meals, and people from the community also volunteer their time to work in the kitchen preparing meals. “We have over 120 volunteers,” she said. Some work in the kitchen, some deliver the meals, and others pack groceries. Others make calls to food recipients to make sure they are getting what they need and to check in.
Groceries are distributed once a week for those who need ingredients to prepare their own meals. About 350 households receive groceries each week,” Wiest-Laird said. Much of the food is provided by the Greater Boston Food Bank, which is extremely busy right now as “food insecurity is up more than 50 percent in MA,” she said. “The demand for food is still really high. The amount of food we’re getting from the Food Bank has dramatically increased.”
Wiest-Laird said that First Baptist Church receives between 12,000 and 14,000 pounds of food per week from the Greater Boston Food Bank.
She said a few weeks ago they were unable to get a slot to receive food at the Food Bank, but “folks in the neighborhood really came through,” she said. After receiving generous donations from the community, it “looked like we had been to the Food Bank,” she said. “It was really lovely.”
She said the community has really come together and helped make this program possible, from monetary donations to volunteering their time to help out neighbors. Wiest-Laird said that the financial support from the community has been “tremendous. I can’t emphasize how grateful we are. This is definitely a community effort, 100 percent.”
The meals are determined by what food items are received as well as what the cook decides to make on any given day. Folks with dietary restrictions are kept track of, Wiest-Laird said, and “we do our best to make sure they get what they need.”
Right now, the groceries are being kept in the space at the church that is typically occupied by the Shattuck Preschool, which has been closed due to COVID-19. As they begin to think about reopening the preschool, Wiest-Laird said that the church is in the process of looking for another spot from which to distribute the groceries.
She said that she believe the delivery program will likely continue for the foreseeable future, and possibly even permanently as it has been working so well.
“I can easily see it going through the summer,” she said. “There are discussions happening on whether or not this is birthing something new in the neighborhood.”
She also said that food insecurity is just part of a number of larger issues in the city, including injustices and inequity in class and race within the communities.
“We’re starting to think about those bugger issues at play,” she said. She said that it’s important for the church to feed people, but it’s also “important for us to be thinking about those bigger questions and work together as a community to make sure that people get what they need.”
Wiest-Laird thanked all of the volunteers involved in the food distribution fir all of their hard work. “I want to make very it clear: the gratitude we have for everybody that’s made this work; the people who have contributing in all the different ways,” she said. “It’s just been really lovely and we’re so grateful to the community.”