Food service needs expected to triple this winter

Food Equity Network is ready to fill the needs of the Island community.

Veggies from Island Grown Gleaning that Betsy Carnie, food service director at the Charter School, is sending home in student meals. — Betsy Carnie

The demand for food access programs this winter is expected to increase threefold compared with last year.

According to Rebecca Haag, executive director for Island Grown Initiative (IGI), the Food Equity Network, a coalition of more than 20 community groups, is assessing the challenges that Islanders could be facing this fall and winter.

“Most of the food equity providers like Serving Hands, the Catholic Parish, and the Island Food Pantry experienced almost a threefold increase in demand for food support in the spring,” Haag said. “It tapered off again in the summer, with some people returning to work. But we are starting to see the demand rise again, and the anticipation we all have is that this winter, we will see the demand go back to the rates they were in May.”

In order to accommodate the drastic growth in food support needs, Haag said IGI has been working hard to increase food production on its farm, and expand gleaning initiatives from local farms and grocers.

“We built some soil beds in our greenhouse, and put out another two acres on our farm for regenerative farming. Altogether, this should provide about 35,000 to 40,000 additional pounds of food,” Haag said. All of these additions are being underwritten by donors, she added: “Many of the seasonal donors were concerned about the year-round population, and were very generous and provided money to expand staff and acquire seeds to have increased produce for the winter.” 

She highlighted the deer donation program, which enables IGI and other organizations in the Food Equity Network to incorporate venison into their distribution programs.

The Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby is also contributing fresh fish as part of its fillet donation program. Normally, the fish fillets would go only to Island seniors, but an additional program this year provides fish to Island schools, to be distributed as part of lunch programs.

According to Haag, farmers have been generous with donating produce, and IGI has been gleaning a great amount of food.

Despite many challenges ahead, Haag said she is confident that the Food Equity Network will be ready to respond to any community needs.

“The real thanks goes to the Island community as a whole. Everyone is responding in amazing ways to these new needs. Shellfishermen have donated a lot of shellfish, deer hunters are helping out. All our neighbors have really stepped up to support their fellow community members,” Haag said.

Kayte Morris, executive director for Island Food Pantry, said in an email that the pantry saw a huge spike in attendance in April and May, when their numbers went up by 275 percent. Now the Food Pantry is looking ahead to how it will accommodate hungry Islanders this winter.

“We are really experiencing the same thing everyone else is experiencing, this level of uncertainty. The need for reliable food for Islanders is going to be greater than last year,” she wrote.

Demand for the Food Pantry has gone up by 94 percent this year across the board, Morris said, in terms of visits, families served, and the amount of food they are providing. “So far, we’ve reached nearly 3,200 Islanders this year, including 800 kids,” she wrote.

As of now, there is enough food to meet the demand. But Morris said the food banks they work with off-Island, which provide the majority of food they distribute, are beginning to express concern over increased demand this year.

Although we operate on this little Island, our ability to serve this community is hugely impacted by what’s happening on the mainland. In the meantime, we’re partnering with other local organizations, such as Island Grown Initiative, Slough Farm, and the Fishermen’s Preservation Trust (among others) to ensure that we’re providing as much local food as possible,” Morris wrote.

Some areas of concern, according to Morris, are with children and families. She noted that although the Island’s school lunch programs are operating now, she is concerned with families who are homeschooling, and their access to wholesome food. 

The Pantry is also focused on the elderly and chronically ill, or anyone who may have difficulty getting to the grocery store. She said the Food Pantry has started a grocery delivery program that is now serving more than 160 households on the Island. Volunteers are always in need, and anyone interested can email info@islandfoodpantry.org, or visit the Pantry website at islandfoodpantry.org to find out more.