Two food equity organizations that have been providing food for the entire Island community are becoming one, as the Island Grown Initiative (IGI) and the Island Food Pantry merge to create a comprehensive support network.
Effective Jan. 1, the Food Pantry will become a separate program within IGI, with its own budget and maintaining its name, mission, and brand. Kayte Morris, the pantry’s executive director, will become a senior director at IGI, joining other program leaders led by IGI executive director Rebecca Haag.
The two benevolent nonprofits have been working together throughout the pandemic, and before that, but Haag said the merger aligns with many different goals of both organizations, and will streamline the process of growing food, processing it, and distributing to hungry Islanders.
“This combined organization will have the ability to grow food, rescue food, process food, and deliver food,” Haag said. “There are people on the Island who are homebound or don’t have access to kitchen facilities. It’s all about preparing the right food for the right people at the right time.”
Haag said the merger will create flexibility and the opportunity for expansion, which is increasingly necessary with the demand on food equity organizations more than doubling since the start of the pandemic.
Not only will combing the efforts of both organizations strengthen their ability to provide services, but Haag said it will benefit all the other food providers on the Island, such as Serving Hands and the Good Shepherd Parish.
“We see the merger as not only supporting the long-term goals of IGI and the pantry, but also all the other food resources on-Island,” Haag said. “Our goal has always been to respond to what our community needs, and right now the need is great.”
Margaret Hannemann, chair of the Food Pantry board, said her organization has seen numbers of clients served double every year for the past three years. At the end of last year, the board assessed the growing needs of the community, and it was clear there was a need to expand.
“We knew we were going to have to grow substantially,” Hannemann said. “We started informal conversations this past March, and got a great facilitator through a grant from the Permanent Endowment of Martha’s Vineyard, who helped us through the process [of creating a merger agreement].”
Hannemann said the Food Pantry will be working with IGI to make sure there are no duplications of efforts, and finding new ways to collaborate and share resources. “We need to meet all these needs, and we need to do it efficiently,” Hannemann said.
As the two organizations work toward the end of the year, they will continue to operate independently while jointly developing a new model for a client-centric delivery system, and collaborating with other providers in the creation of an Island-wide food equity hub.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, the Food Pantry has provided groceries for nearly 100,000 meals to Islanders in need. In May alone, they reached 1,762 Islanders (including 467 children and 178 seniors), and welcomed 85 new households.
In a press release, pantry executive director Kayte Morris said the pandemic has exposed the ongoing lack of access to healthy food on the Island. “The ongoing economic distress many of our neighbors face requires us to be deliberate about integrating and coordinating our services to close the gaps,” Morris said in the release. “This merger promises to unleash creative opportunities that will move us into the future and modernize our systems to build in more flexibility, and to better meet the diverse needs of the folks we serve.”
Morris told The Times that a couple weeks ago, a freezer broke at the Food Pantry, and 2,000 pounds of frozen food was on its way from the Greater Boston Food Bank. IGI stepped in and sent an employee to the Food Pantry in its refrigerated van, loaded all the food into the van, and brought it back to the Island Grown Farm Hub at Thimble Farm to store in their freezers.
With IGI’s gleaning program, Morris said, food that would normally be wasted at grocery stores is recovered by IGI, and brought to the Food Pantry to be utilized.
“These are just some examples of how creating a combined effort between both organizations will solve some of these logistical challenges and increase efficiency,” Morris said.