The First Parish Newbury Food Pantry (FPNFP) opened its doors to the community in December 2015 with just three volunteers and one guest recipient. Over the next twelve months in response to outreach efforts, the pantry expanded both its base of volunteers and the number of people served.
In August 2016, the pantry was approved by the Greater Boston Food Bank (GBFB) as a partner in their food distribution program. This approval helped the pantry expand to include more products, including frozen meats and other perishable goods. By the end of 2016, the pantry was serving approximately 100 households a week.
In 2017 the pantry partnered with Nourishing the North Shore (NNS) to provide fresh, locally-grown produce for our guests. With their support, the pantry established an outside “farmers market” where, during the summer months, participants can select fresh vegetables and fruits. Also in 2017, Pennies for Poverty began helping recruit volunteers for the pantry and started a delivery and transport service to eliminate one of the biggest barriers to food security.
By the end of 2019, the pantry was serving approximately 150 households a week in the greater Newbury/Newburyport area.
In January 2020, the World Health Organization declared COVID a pandemic. For those already at risk for food insecurity, the impact was devastating. The number of people in need of food assistance dramatically increased requiring a redesign of pantry operations.
To meet the expanded need for food due to COVID, we more than doubled our hours of operation. As church services were suspended, we were able to expand from using the church’s library and sanctuary to having food stacked on every pew. Our shoppers walked down one aisle picking items from pews on either side and then returned up the other aisle picking from both sides of the aisle.
In March 2020 when the Council on Aging buses stopped bringing guests to the pantry, we significantly expanded home delivery of groceries. Due to Covid, many food pantries were forced to close, or they switched to pre-packaged bags of food. We innovated and changed from in-person shopping to online ordering so that our guests could choose from 250-300 frozen, fresh, and packaged grocery and personal care items to get the nutritious food they needed. Letting them choose also avoided giving our guests unwanted food in prepackaged bags which could have led to food waste.
Together with Pennies for Poverty, we recruited volunteers to call guests who didn’t have internet access or were uncomfortable ordering online. Each of our volunteer callers reaches out to their assigned guests every week. They become familiar with their guests and can better respond to each person’s unique needs. Our weekly phone calls are a welcomed conversation with a friendly neighbor and a chance for our callers to ask what their current needs are.
We also greatly expanded our delivery service for people who don’t have transportation or are medically vulnerable, delivering to over 90 households every week.
By the start of 2021, we were calling 120 guests to assist them with ordering online, delivering to 100 households, and feeding 250-300 people every Friday.
We knew that the church eventually wanted to return to in-person services when Covid ended and needed to find a new home. After months of searching for a new location, Bryce and Mary Jo Anderson volunteered the temporary use of a garage on Hanover St. In June, we used donated and purchased metal shelving to equip the new space to handle shopping for 250 to 300 items every week. With the help of our volunteers and the crew from Ace Cleanouts of Haverhill, we moved the last of our freezers and food into our new location on Saturday, June 26th. We opened the following Friday, July 2nd, not missing a week.
The First Parish Church of Newbury approved the use of church property to build a 40’ x 60’ prefabricated metal building so the pantry would have a permanent home. A building permit was issued in November and site work began in December. The pantry has been the beneficiary of generous donations from many individuals and businesses who have helped fund the new building. We have raised the estimated $320,000 cost of the building and new fixtures. We anticipate being in our new building by April 2022.
2022 was an impactful year for the Newbury Food Pantry. A record 498 unique households visited the pantry 8,943 times, feeding 19,366 people with 42,197 bags of groceries.
On January 10, 2022, the metal was delivered for our new 2,400-square-foot building and construction began immediately. The building was ready for occupancy at the end of April and we moved into it the first weekend in May. The work was supported in large part by generous in-kind donations from Atlantic Contract Systems, Caswell Mechanical, and Coffey Design and Build. Please click here to view a detailed timeline of this important project.
In collaboration with the Triton Regional School District, we established food pantries inside Triton High School and Salisbury Elementary School in late November.
We established four additional pantries at Newbury Elementary, Rowley Elementary, Triton Middle School, and Pine Grove for a total of six school food pantries.
We took over leadership of the food recovery program that was started by Nourishing the North Shore 7 years ago. Our volunteers collect unused food from five area schools. In 2023 the program recovered over 7,700 pounds of food that would have been discarded.
We rolled out a new online ordering, guest management, inventory management, and reporting system called PantrySoft. It has improved guest satisfaction, reduced manual Excel work, and streamlined reporting.
In May, Jane Merrow, the Pantry co-founder, was honored by the YWCA of Northeastern Massachusetts as a leader who has made a difference in her community. Later in the year, the Pantry volunteers were singled out by the PEG Center for Art and Activism as local heroes for the work they do each week.
We plan to establish a pantry in River Valley Charter School, as well as the Newburyport School system.