Three years ago, the United Way of Pioneer Valley asked the agencies it supports to name the biggest need their constituents face.
Answer: Helping people get enough to eat.
This fall, the United Way took a big step toward addressing food insecurity in Hampden County with the opening of the Holyoke Community Cupboard at 164 Race St.
The new location is helping residents of Holyoke and surrounding communities put meals on the table at a time of rising need – driven in part by food inflation and by a scaling back of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits.
Across the U.S., 17 million U.S. households were “food insecure” at some point during 2022, according to the Economic Research Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. That is nearly 13% of all families, up from 10.2% in 2021.
This problem has been dramatized over the past decade by Christopher “Monte” Belmonte, the radio host who 14 years ago began pushing an empty shopping cart 43 miles from Springfield to Greenfield. Under a new name, Annual March for the Food Bank, Belmonte’s campaign launched Monday and continues Tuesday.
Importantly, the new Holyoke cupboard builds the capacity of local food programs, including Margaret’s Pantry in Holyoke, at a time of rising demand for food assistance.
The United Way was wise to ask the question in 2020. Today, it is helping to roll out a solution in Holyoke, with help from two local partners – Holyoke Community College and the HCC Culinary Arts Institute, based at the Race Street location in the Cubit building.
Lee Drewitz, the United Way’s director of program operations, says the new cupboard operates in a part of Holyoke that’s been a food desert, where individuals and families who lack transportation have had limited access to markets within walking distance.
Now that it’s up and running, people need to spread the good news.
The Holyoke Community Cupboard provides food on Thursdays from 2:30 to 5:30 p.m. People are asked to complete a one-page intake form.
A similar cupboard that recently opened in Chicopee is seeing 130 visitors a week; a small pantry at the United Way’s Community Service Center at 1441 Main St. is getting about 200 walk-ins weekly.
The manager of Margaret’s Pantry, Brenda Lamagdeleine, says her program is serving 40 to 60 families a day, nearly double its recent volume. The pantry is located at 56 Cabot St. and is associated with Providence Ministries. Food is available Mondays through Fridays from 10:30 a.m. to noon.