Battling food insecurity

How local resources come together to help Islanders in need.

The Food Pantry provides food for over 800 families on the Island. —Lexi Pline

There are many misconceptions about food insecurity. “It’s not synonymous with starvation,” Kayte Morris, executive director of the Island Food Pantry, said. “It really comes down to not knowing how you’re going to fill the cupboards for the week, or where you’re going to get your next meal.”

There is no shortage of food resources on the Island, but identifying those in need and directing them to available resources can be difficult. Noli Taylor, community food education director at Island Grown Initiative (IGI), a nonprofit that focuses on programs that provide healthy food to all Islanders, discussed the many resources within the Food Equity Network. Both IGI and the Food Pantry are a part of the network. 

“Martha’s Vineyard’s Food Equity Network is a coalition of more than 20 community groups,” Taylor said, “including nonprofits, faith communities, social service agencies, and educators, who work together to provide equitable food access and opportunity across the Island.” 

Understanding the number and location of food-insecure individuals on the Island is vital to the proper allocation of resources. Currently, there are minimal data on food insecurity on Martha’s Vineyard, but healthcare providers are working to change that.

“When people come to our primary-care office, we ask them first to take a confidential survey,” Dr. Aletheia Donahue, a primary-care physician at Martha’s Vineyard Hospital and advocate of food insecurity reform, said. “It asks them questions to learn if they’re food-insecure.”

If a patient is identified as food-insecure, the physician can refer them to a social worker or dietitian and provide them with a program-specific contact at IGI. When someone calls the contact number, they will receive a list of Food Equity Network organizations and programs that they qualify to use.

These organizations all recognize the importance of nutritious food equity for overall health. “It’s been scientifically proven that elders are healthier and that kids perform better in school when they eat better. Eating well improves quality of life for everyone,” Kayte Morris said. “We focus on bringing protein, produce, and dairy into the Food Pantry, not the shelf-stabilized products you think about as food pantry staples — like peanut butter and canned corn.”

With the holidays approaching, Morris points out that the Food Pantry is well stocked for Thanksgiving and Christmas, and Serving Hands at the First Baptist Church parish house will distribute full holiday dinners for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter.Good Shepherd Parish provides perishable food, mostly frozen meat and produce about once a week throughout the year. Many organizations are working hard to ensure all Islanders have access to food when they need it. “People should know how many great resources there are for them on the Island, should they ever find themselves in need,” Morris said.