Island organizations lend a helping hand

MVCS and the Permanent Endowment Fund create community safety net.

Melissa Ogden, assistant principal at the Tisbury School, hands out grab and go lunches in the pouring rain. Most island schools are giving out free lunches during the Coronavirus shutdown. — Lexi Pline

FoodFood, funds, and matching volunteers are just a few of the ways organizations on Martha’s Vineyard are working to create a safety net to ensure the health and well-being of Islanders.

Organizations like Martha’s Vineyard Community Services (MVCS), the Permanent Endowment for Martha’s Vineyard, the Island Food Pantry, Island Grown Initiative (IGI), and others are working collaboratively to form a network of support. Island schools have been providing grab-and-go lunches for families and students who typically rely on school lunches.

Rebecca Pierce, events and development coordinator for MVCS, said that with so many opportunities for Islanders to help out, it’s essential for those folks to know the options that are available to them, and where their efforts are needed most.

“It’s out of control how many people want to volunteer their time,” Pierce said. “I am thinking of my grandfather, who lives out in Katama and uses Meals on Wheels, and I am thinking about all the people who don’t have the support they need. There are people who are alone, and that is terrifying.”

With the launch of MVCS’ COVID-19 volunteer coordination program, the benevolent organization will streamline the process for volunteers by matchmaking them with other Island entities that need the support.

“To be able to have one place that everyone can go to, whether you are an organization looking for help, or a volunteer looking to help, we are looking to be that place,” Pierce said. “A lot of people look to us to provide support and guidance in times of need, and this is one of those times.”

And MVCS isn’t just organizing volunteers into a structured list, it will be making sure that specific skills and professions are utilized by the organizations they are dedicating their time to.

“The Island Food Pantry needs people to help loading and unloading the trucks, filling bags, delivering groceries, so we need people that are physically able to do that,” Pierce said.

She said executive director of the Island Food Pantry Kayte Morris told her that the pantry needs to fill 90 percent of its team for the months ahead.

She said elder-service organizations are also looking for people with finance backgrounds, to help older folks with money management.

“There are so many skilled volunteers, and we want to make sure they are in the right spot,” Pierce said.

In just one day, Pierce said, more than 20 people have volunteered their time, and are being matched with the right support systems.

“We believe that no one should be alone on this Island. I am aware this is not the only solution to the myriad of challenges we face here, but we are just trying to do our part,” Pierce said. “There are so many different groups and individuals who are so dedicated.”

She said seeing so many different facets of the community come together in a time of crisis is “truly remarkable.”

Not only are people and organizations incredibly generous with their time on the Island, they are also willing to donate funds to causes that will help people.

Executive director for the Permanent Endowment Emily Bramhall said the main goal of her organization is to be responsive to a community in need, and help others that are on the frontlines during trying times. That’s why they recently launched the emergency response fund to address the urgent needs during this public health crisis.

“We know these organizations are invaluable to the Island, and they are going to see a huge increase in demand for their services,” Bramhall said.

According to Bramhall, the Endowment already funds hundreds of organizations on the Island, but the emergency response fund seeks to ensure that Island nonprofits and benevolent organizations can provide their essential services.

By providing a way for individuals, businesses, and other entities to donate funds, and then have funds granted to nonprofits after they apply, the Endowment is streamlining the process for those who want to give, and those who need relief.

With a starting base of $25,000 in the fund from existing sources, and two generous donors already dedicating money, Bramhall said, she hopes the many invaluable organizations will be able to use the funds to meet their immediate needs.

Bramhall mentioned how Island institutions like the Food Pantry, the Good Shepherd Parish, IGI, and others already have the infrastructure to provide for the community. “They are the experts, and we want to be able to give them a strong helping hand,” Bramhall said.

The Food Pantry is also working hard to make sure people who are susceptible or isolated have enough to eat. According to a press release, the number of households served by the pantry has already doubled from 2019. In February, the pantry set a new record, serving 1,200 people.

The release states that the demand for food will grow in the coming weeks, as workers are displaced from their jobs and their hours are cut short.

“We anticipate that sufficient food resources will be available from the Greater Boston Food Bank, Island Grown Initiative, and others. However, surplus donations of perishable items — produce, bread, dairy, meat, and fish — routinely provided by local grocers, restaurants, farmers, and others are likely to be greatly reduced,” Margaret Hannemann, president of the pantry, said in the release.

Monetary donations to the Food Pantry are also needed. The pantry can purchase $7 worth of food for every dollar donated, according to the release.

Noli Taylor, community food education director for IGI, said dealing with a crisis situation is a strong reminder of how important it is for support services to be interconnected, and how critical those services are. “We are so fortunate on-Island that there are already so many community service organizations that want to help,” Taylor said. 

Taylor said IGI’s farm hub at Thimble Farm is working on building new soil-based beds in the greenhouse, and expanding production in the fields, to help establish future food security in the community.


If you or your organization needs volunteer assistance, visit the MVCS website and fill out a form. For those who wish to volunteer their time, another form is available on the website. MVCS has also created a food resources page with additional information. Organizations looking for grant funding assistance, along with individuals and organizations wishing to donate, can visit the Permanent Endowment’s emergency response fund page.

Visit the Island Food Pantry website if you wish to donate funds or volunteer your time for feeding folks on-Island. The Island Grown Initiative website also has lots of useful information about ways to support the Vineyard community.