GREATER WESTFIELD-As part of the final round of the $36 million Massachusetts Food Security Infrastructure Grant Program by the Baker-Polito Administration, the Westfield Food Pantry was among the local awardees of grants to address urgent food insecurity issues.
“We are purchasing a food truck to operate as a mobile soup kitchen, mobile food pantry, and revenue generating food truck selling specialty food at area events,” said Rebecca Hart, executive director, Westfield Food Pantry.
For Hart and the pantry’s board of directors, the dream of having a food truck has been five years in the making.
Hart said the awarding of the $126,100 grant is a “game-changing opportunity” for the organization.
“I’m thrilled we will be able to serve meals and bring groceries to people in our community,” said Hart. “Finally, we can bring services to those in need, instead of them coming to us.”
Hart said a lack of transportation is often the main barrier for city residents to access food resources.
“The hybrid model for the food truck will allow us to sell food specifically prepared (with non food pantry/non donated food) at events generating revenue to be used to support the mission of feeding those in need,” said Hart.
Hart, who has a background in the restaurant industry, said she has been experimenting with recipes – focusing on healthier offerings including “luxury” grilled cheese, pulled pork sandwiches, and homemade soups and salads – that would be offered at events generating revenue for the open pantry operation.
“Once the truck is functional on July 1, 2021, we have set several goals, including serving 1,000 people a month, three times a week, in our first year,” said Hart, who met with the fabricator Feb. 22 to discuss the logistics involved in fitting the truck to the needs of the pantry.
Hart submitted the grant proposal last September and noted in her summation that according to the organization Feeding America, Massachusetts has seen the highest rise in food insecurity since the pandemic.
“We have seen that trend in the last five to 10 years and the pandemic exacerbated an existing problem,” said Hart.
Once the truck is up and running, Hart will be hiring part-time staff as drivers and eventually she would like to have a full-time staff person handling the food truck operation.
“A long-term goal is to partner with Westfield Technical Academy so students can learn the trade and be successful,” she said, adding, “I am super passionate about the project.”
On a related note, the Westfield Food Pantry announced on its Facebook page it is having a “Name Our Food Truck” contest. “The name should embody our commitment to the local community; send your best ideas and if we choose it, you’ll win $100,” notes the posting. The deadline to submit a name is March 5.
A press release from the Baker-Polito Administration noted the grant program was created following recommendations from the Administration’s COVID-19 Command Center’s Food Security Task Force, which promotes ongoing efforts to ensure that individuals and families throughout the state have access to healthy, local food.
“Our administration is grateful to the food banks, nonprofits, schools and food producers who have stepped up this past year to make sure healthy food gets into the hands of Massachusetts residents, children and communities struggling with food insecurity,” said Gov. Charlie Baker in a statement. “Through this program, we are proud to have awarded over $35 million to help these organizations and businesses address the pandemic and reduce hunger, and build a resilient food system that is better able to serve residents of the Commonwealth now and in the future.”
The final round of the grant program included 175 awards, including $232,417 to the Westfield Public Schools. The grant application noted funds would “further reach students and their families impacted by the ongoing pandemic, the public school system will utilize program funds to purchase equipment to strengthen its food distribution system, sustain program operations during food supply shortages/disruptions, and increase the reach to food insecure households. Also, new equipment includes refrigerator and freezer units, coolers, and expanded/updated cooking areas.”
Additionally, the Yellow Stonehouse Farm in Westfield received a $2,300 grant to enable the farm to expand the availability of its products to low-income individuals and families by investing in equipment that enables SNAP/EBT payments to be directly made, and Blossoming Acres in Southwick received a $50,000 grant to assist the farm in the creation of cold storage space for both crops and other products to increase its longevity and ensure additional food reaches the market for the community and region.