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When Massachusetts Went Dark, Our Light Shone Brighter

It was March 16 when Massachusetts “went dark,” in the words of our Executive Director Jodi Falk. The coronavirus pandemic was raging, and the governor ordered schools closed. Later, non-essential businesses, stores, and institutions shuttered to prevent the virus spread.

Nationwide, food insecurity was already a dreadful 11%; it soon skyrocketed to 38% when massive numbers of people became jobless. Many were your neighbors.

We stayed open. We had to—because Rachel’s Table is a lifeline to agencies serving people without enough to eat across Franklin, Hampden, and Hampshire counties. They rely on our deliveries of donated food—baked goods, breads, sandwiches, produce— from restaurants, supermarkets, bakeries and caterers.

As the crisis worsened and many food establishments closed, their donations became unpredictable and unreliable. (Though, colleges and schools were in touch with us to donate food after students went home).

Scared. Desperate. Demoralized. We were all of those things.

People were hungry. Where would we get donated food? Who could deliver it? How could we keep our 200+ volunteers safe? If we could deliver food, were local agencies even open to distribute it?

Most of our volunteers are over 60. As Jodi said, “We didn’t want them in any way, shape or form to be affected by the coronavirus because of the volunteer work they do for us.” Nor did we want the people they contacted to be affected. So, we told our volunteers to stay safe and stay home.

It turned out that Salvation Army had a fleet of trucks and the Springfield Rescue Mission had a truck. Their staff were already following rigorous safety protocols. They agreed to pick up our food donations and deliver them to their own agencies and to others around the region.

In a word, they were lifesavers. So were places like Delaney’s Market, Olive Garden, and Longhorn, which never stopped donating food.

But things got worse: food donations were trickling in and hunger was escalating. We had no choice but to buy food. An incredible donor stepped forward with $10,000 for our Healthy Community Emergency Food Fund, and more donors contributed thanks to media attention and the passionate outreach of our volunteers, staff and board.

With the help of people like you, the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts and Health New England, we kept going—and raised over $65,000 in a short few weeks! And, 100% of the money raised is going towards food.

Thanks to such extraordinary generosity, we purchased and delivered thousands of pounds of meats, potatoes, and vegetables to agencies serving people in need.

We realized another group of people needed nourishment—frontline healthcare workers at local hospitals and nursing homes. While they weren’t battling hunger, they were in the fight of their lives caring for the sickest among us.

So, we arranged for safe, outdoor delivery to places like Mercy Medical Center, JGS-Lifecare, and Reeds Landing. And, in Franklin County, we teamed up with the Meal Train and Fusion Cross-Media to feed Baystate Health, Poet’s Seat, Charlene Manor, the State Police and more!

You might have seen the signs around the area saying, “We love our community heroes.” A percentage of the sign sales go to this “Feeding the Frontlines” program.

As the state begins to re-open, we look back over the past few months with profound gratitude to our donors and to our tenacious community that cares.

We are preparing for more tomorrows of hardship; the road to recovery is long. But, because of you, we’ll be there—across Western Massachusetts—to bring food to the tables of our neighbors in need.

[Donations are gratefully accepted to the Healthy Community Emergency Food Fund.]

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