The Complete Story
The People’s Pantry Overview
Since 1999 The People’s Pantry of Great Barrington has served the South Berkshire community, welcoming all who visit us without requiring proof of income or status. Our mission is to respectfully serve our neighbors experiencing food insecurity by distributing healthy food, locally sourced whenever feasible. By doing so, we strengthen the community. The People’s Pantry vision is to create an environment, in collaboration with individuals and other organizations in our community, which supports the building of healthy lives for individuals and families.
In the early years the Pantry moved many times, until 2017 when we were offered a permanent home, free of charge and located in the center of town at Saint James Place. We are currently open late Monday afternoons and on Thursday mornings. Clients may shop once each week.
Prior to the pandemic, we served an average of 125 people a week. That number soared in March and April of 2020, and has been steadily increasing ever since. The increase was initially driven mostly by unemployment during the pandemic, but now is fueled by inflation, supply chain issues, and a lack of affordable housing in our area. At this point, in the spring of 2023, the Pantry is feeding an average of 500-600 people a week, up from 300-400 in January of 2022.
Meanwhile, our costs have increased even faster than the number of clients being served. In 2021 we spent $102,531 on food. In 2022, the amount nearly doubled to $191,200, representing 80% of our total budget. And we anticipate another large cost increase this year.
By purchasing as much locally sourced food as feasible, the Pantry pays into the local agricultural economy and helps to keep small family farms going. This also helps preserve open spaces in Berkshire County, as well as in neighboring Columbia, Dutchess, and Litchfield counties. These farms employ local workers, which in turn ultimately contributes toward reducing the number of people needing our services. And by buying locally, we reduce the Pantry’s carbon footprint.
It is important to note that the People’s Pantry is not simply a source of food for those who are experiencing food insecurity. During food distribution hours, we periodically host agencies that offer services to support the community, such as legal and health services. These groups have provided education about available assistance and have provided on-site services, such as blood pressure checks and immunizations. We have become part of an extensive network to support the marginalized residents of our area.
In years past, our minimal operating costs and local support always kept the Pantry solvent. We rely on donations from individuals, businesses, houses of worship, and community organizations. During the pandemic, as our services expanded to meet the marked growth in demand, the community stepped up and generously met our needs and more. However, now faced with rising need and rising costs, we are exploring other funding sources. We have recently affiliated with Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation, an essential philanthropic resource in our area. This partnership not only provides us with access to a solid and dependable means of growing capital, it provides us with a more diverse means of accepting donations, while also giving us access to a wider selectio n of grant opportunities.
The People’s Pantry is a 501(c)(3) organization.
The People’s Pantry serves our local families and individuals in two ways, through food distribution at our Pantry and via food boxes distributed to the local school districts.
The Pantry opens its doors to clients two days a week for food distribution. On Monday afternoons and Thursday mornings one can find a long line of people waiting patiently for their groceries. On any given week we are feeding an average of 200 households (500 –600 estimated individuals) in this way. The food is provided free to the shoppers thanks to local donations, food purchased locally, and food from the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts (see food source report on page 3).
In addition, The People’s Pantry supplies local school district families with food that we order for them through the Food Bank. Southern Berkshire and Berkshire Hills Regional School Districts provide boxes to 50-60 families (feeding 300 individuals) weekly. These school boxes are augmented by donations from other community organizations. Although we supply administrative support and labor for the school food distribution, all food supplied is free from the Food Bank and so does not come from the Pantry’s food budget.
Two months before the pandemic hit, we had added Monday late afternoon hours in order to serve a larger group of people who might be unable to come during our regular Thursday morning distribution. This two-day schedule, in tandem with the Covid crisis, resulted in a dramatic increase in the numbers served.
On average, prior to the pandemic, we served 125 individuals a week. At the height of the pandemic those numbers more than doubled to an average of 300 individuals. Demand, however, has not been reduced as the Covid crisis has receded. Dramatic increases in the cost of foodstuff, fuel, and other living costs in combination with diminished affordable housing in our region have resulted in numbers nearly four times as high as those seen pre -pandemic. Currently the Pantry serves over 500 individuals a week during pantry hours in addition to the 300 served by food boxes distributed through the school.
For the first quarter of 2023, of those weekly clients currently being served 23% are aged 65 and over and 20% are under the age of 18. Most of our clients, 50%, come from Great Barrington. Another 12% come from Sheffield, 6% from Lee, 4% from Pittsfield, and the rest from the surrounding area including a small number from Connecticut and New York state. Compared to the first quarter of last year, we are serving 44% more households, and 66% more children.
We have surveyed our clients, asking what they like most and what we need to improve. We received overwhelming approval and gratitude, not only for the food offered, but also for the respectful and friendly way it is offered by Pantry volunteers. Great Barrington is, after all, a small town, where people cross paths in many ways. Some clients come early to visit with each other and help unload food as it is delivered. Other current and former clients formally serve as volunteers.
One client, a recent immigrant with 5 children, who was referred to the pantry by a nutritionist at our local hospital said "The Pantry helps me and my family. They surprise me with the wonderful food. They give me everything: beef, milk, vegetables, rice, bread and soap.”
Another wrote "Thank you for the amazing work at the Pantry helping out a lot of people in need. God bless you all and all the people who are volunteering there. They are so kind.”
A third said “The pantry is so well organized, not chaotic like others I’ve seen. The line moves quickly, and the shopping carts are awesome!” (We provide shopping carts for people to take their food to their car or the bus stop.)
A fourth client, who felt her English was not good enough to express herself, wro te and translated on her phone “The people here always make me feel good. I’m very grateful. Nobody looks down their nose at me here.”
And we recently received this email from a former client:
This is a message of thanks. During the pandemic I suffered a major illness and could not work. My husband was working in healthcare in an entry level low paying position. We couldn’t make ends meet. We started to get food from the Pantry. We found a welcome and warmth there. The food was very good quality - especially the fresh fruits and vegetables. Eventually I got well and returned to work and my husband got a new job that paid better. We got back on our feet financially. We stopped using the Pantry because we could afford to buy food again but each time we drive by we are grateful for the nutritious food and warm help we received. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts.
Food Source Report
Each week 40-50 volunteers work to stock shelves, receive deliveries, and serve pantry clients who choose fresh produce, milk, eggs, meat, and cheese as well as shelf-stable canned and dry goods and hygiene products. Our commitment to serving our clients is matched by our commitment to offering the healthiest food, and the most local food, we can obtain. To accomplish this, the People’s Pantry engages with a highly evolved local food access system in Berkshire County. We have many partners, but it is essential to begin by mentioning two in particular, Berkshire Bounty and Berkshire Grown. Both organizations are nonprofits funded by individuals, organizations and grants. Participation with these organizations costs the People’s Pantry nothing.
Berkshire Bounty “fights food insecurity by collecting excess fresh produce, dairy products, baked go ods and meats from supermarkets, farms and owners of fruit bearing trees” and delivers that food to pantries such as ours. They collect food for us through food drives and truck much of that donated food for us. They also transport excess food we have to other pantries in need.
Berkshire Grown is developing a Farm to Food Access program of which we are part. This program is working to formalize a buying system wherein they will establish advance purchase contracts with local farms to get fresh, locally grown food, and in turn, the farmers will deliver that food to a central location to be aggregated, stored, and distributed to participating organizations such as ours. They have built a cold storage facility that allows them to buy from farmers in season and distribute food throughout the winter. Berkshire Grown has also purchased Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) shares from local farms for us and created partnerships on our behalf with many vendors. They also subsidize the price of some of our farm products.
Here is how The People’s Pantry is currently sourcing food:
Donations are collected in bins at our Saint James Place location. These bins are available 24/7 for donations of anything that is shelf stable. The Kiwanis Club, local businesses, houses of worship, etc. periodically collect shelf stable goods for the People’s Pantry. Berkshire Bounty runs a monthly, highly successful food drive, which contributes to our shelf stock. We still need to shop for additional items to fill our shelves, however, and to do so we watch for sales at our local Big Y grocery store and buy cereal, rice, soup, dried beans, and other dry goods in bulk when possible. In addition, the Berkshire Food Coop sells pasta and pasta sauce to us at a discount.
Community drives gather donations of specific types of hygiene products, such as menstrual and incontinence products. We order toilet paper at a commercial rate from a local office supplier, Brigham, which delivers to us.
Fresh fruit and vegetables provided at the Pantry come from a variety of sources. Berkshire Grown has purchased CSAs for us from Indian Line Farm in Egremont, Massachusetts. We purchase from other local farms with partial or full underwriting from Berkshire Grown. We receive culls (products that a re not suitable for sale) from the Big Y and Guido’s Fresh Marketplace, a family run local grocer. Guido’s additionally provides us access to their Boston vendor at wholesale cost, and then trucks the produce to Great Barrington at no cost to the Pantry. Berkshire Bounty picks up produce at the grocery stores and delivers to us. Two local gardens, Gideon’s Garden and Greenagers, grow specifically for us and deliver the produce at no cost. The Berkshire House of Correction donates aquaponic lettuce that they grow for us. On Saturdays, during the growing season, we receive the culls from the local farmers’ market. And there are home gardeners who donate their excess.
We get day old breads and other baked goods donated from BigY, Berkshire Mountain Bakery a nd Guido’s. Fuel donates pastries every Monday.
Our milk is sold and delivered by Highlawn Farm in Lee, Massachusetts at a discounted price. We were introduced to them through Berkshire Grown. Some of our eggs are purchased through Off the Shelf Farm in New Marlborough, Massachusetts, and Berkshire Grown pays a percentage of the already discounted price. The rest of our eggs are purchased through Guido’s from Feather Ridge Farm in nearby Elizaville, New York. We purchase Cabot cheese (a New England / New York farm cooperative) from Guido’s.
Our beef, chicken and pork all come from Tory Hill, LLC in Lakeville, Connecticut. Again, Berkshire Grown pays part of this cost. We have had occasional donations of local beef and lamb (for the cost of processing) from local farms.
We are allowed to order up to 6000 pounds of food from the Food Bank of Western Mass each month, but the availability of specific foods is highly variable. When we can, we order frozen fish, canned tuna and chicken, cereal, and canned vegetables, beans and fruit. Occasionally, they will surprise us with the availability of local potatoes or fresh pineapples that were donated as overages by suppliers. Most of the items are from the Massachusetts Emergency Food Assistance Program (MEFAP) for which we pay only a small storage and delivery fee. We also purchase food from the Food Bank of Western Mass. (As the Food Bank has less food available in their pipelines, they are purchasing more food which we then buy.) We do not receive food from the federal government (USDA) as the recording and separate storage requirements are not possible for us.
Lastly, The People’s Pantry receives donated cat and dog food from Irie’s Pet Pantry, a nonprofit in Stockbridge, Massachusetts.
Non-discrimination and Equal Employment Policy
It is the policy of The People’s Pantry to ensure equal employment opportunities, volunteer opportunities, and client services, without discrimination or harassment on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, age, disability, marital status, citizenship, national origin, genetic information, or any other characteristic.
Code of Conduct
Welcome to the People’s Pantry!
We intend for this to be a space where all shoppers, volunteers, and staff are to be treated with kindness and respect at all times. Please be considerate and patient.
Everyone must wear a mask indoors at all times. This is one way in which we respect each other and keep each other safe.
Harassing, threatening, and/or abusive language or gestures are not acceptable.
Those who are disruptive or unkind will be asked to leave.
Visiting organization Policy
Visiting organizations support our vision “to create an environment, in collaboration with individuals and other organizations in our community, which supports the building of healthy lives for individuals and families”. Our goal is for everyone to feel safe and welcome at the pantry. We are a secular organization.
Visitors will familiarize themselves with our volunteer handbook and follow our Code of Conduct.
They will be scheduled with the Pantry Manager (PM) and notify her of who will be present.
They will check in with the PM on arrival and see how they can best be of assistance.
They will assist in their own setup and takedown.
All literature that will be offered should be cleared by the PM prior to the visit. Literature should be both in Spanish and English.
An effort should be made to send staff who are fluent in both English and Spanish.
Volunteers & Board of Directors
The Pantry is primarily an all-volunteer organization, with a working board of 12, and one 10-hour/weekly employee, who manages food distributions and coordinates with local suppliers. Each week 40 -50 volunteers work to stock shelves, receive deliveries, and serve pantry clients. We estimate that the operation of the pantry requires over 100 volunteer hours on site each week. This does not include the many hours of administrative work done each week, mostly by board members.
President: Beth Moser
Vice President: Rees Shad
Vice President Operations: Anne Hutchinson
Secretary: George Raymond
Treasurer: Ellen Heffan