By CJ Gunther
Malden, USA, May 4 (efe-epa).- Dennis Donnelly is just one of over 500 volunteers who have signed up with Bread of Life to distribute much-needed food boxes to some of the poorest residents of communities north of Boston amid a spike in unemployment sparked by the shutdown of all non-essential businesses due to the Covid-19 outbreak.
“People are desperate,” the retired firefighter tells EPA-EFE. “Teri (who also works with Bread of Life), made up a box and was telling a family, ‘I don’t know if it is everything you want.’
“‘Food is food’, they said, ‘food is food,” Donnelly recounts during one of the organisation’s home visits to those who are confined, either because of quarantine orders, or because they are single unemployed mothers who cannot leave young children unsupervised at home.
Before the crisis, Bread of Life (BOL), which works to connect hundreds of volunteers with over 40 different organisations, would provide an average of 60 meals a day. That rate has doubled to over 120 daily food parcels since the outbreak and the restrictions to limit it were imposed in March, as the shutdown continues to take a heavy economic and social toll.
Nearly 250,000 workers filed unemployment benefit applications in Massachusetts in just one week at the end of April, dwarfing the previous decade-old record set in the financial crisis.
More than 30 million Americans and 725,000 Massachusetts workers have filed unemployment claims due to the widespread nationwide shutdowns, according to the US Department of Labor, as the crisis inflicts severe economic damage on the country.
BOL is providing a lifeline to those thousands of residents of north Boston’s communities who are struggling to get by amid the economic gloom.
Every Tuesday, volunteers and staff gather to help unload trucks delivering donations from grocery stores such as Trader Joes, Stop & Shop and greeneries like Loving Spoonful.
The items, which include staples such as cabbage, eggs, chicken, onions, tomatoes, canned goods and dry goods, as well as some more exotic items like mangoes, are sorted into bags and boxes for the needy to collect during the rest of the week, while those who cannot leave can have the boxes delivered to their homes.
Every evening from Tuesday to Friday, a team of volunteers and staff head over to the 1st Baptist Church in Malden to set up to distribute the food to a stream of needy people.
“We get here around 3:30 so that we can get started,” says BOL Meal Program Assistant John Robillard. “The folks start lining up around 4:30 but we don’t start handing out bags and meals until 5:30. We used to feed them all down here [in the church basement] but the Governor says we can not have groups of more than 10, so we make them ‘to go’ meals now.”
“It’s nice to be able to give them a hot meal but I have to get here early to start cooking; the stove situation is not great,” laments Marie Tiro, the Meals Program and Food Delivery Coordinator for Bread of Life. “It takes an hour to get the water boiling on the old stove we use.”
BOL is trying to raise funds to replace the aging building on their property and have all the services under one roof, dining area, large walk in freezers, plenty of area for all of the needs of the organization.
Homeless people make up a significant portion of the people who rely on the BOL lifeline, and many of the volunteers have been forced to turn to the organisation’s food parcels at one point in their lives.
When the Commonwealth shuttered all non-essential businesses and many employees were suddenly out of work, those that were already facing financial difficulties were pushed over the precipice, and food pantries such as BOL have been crucial to helping them keep food on the table.
BOL also works in partnership with the local Everett School system, which was still providing school children with lunches for the first three weeks of the closures at the start of the shutdown.
When the spread of the Coronavirus swelled in Everett, a three-week pause in providing those lunches was initiated. Bread of Life joined the school system when the program was restarted to help out by providing additional food and snacks so that the school children would have something to eat on the weekends with their ‘Backpack’ program.
The drawstring backpacks, donated by Tufts Health Plan, are filled with snack foods for school children, all in a combined effort to make sure there aren’t any children going hungry. EFE-EPA