Keeping up with demand for food assistance is difficult enough but one nonprofit in Waltham, Massachusetts, is pulling double duty trying to feed families in need while also being in need of a home themselves. The organization Healthy Waltham says it’s in a difficult position as the temporary solution they’ve found is set to expire in a few weeks.
Since April of 2020, Healthy Waltham has distributed more than 1.7 million pounds of food to the community. It’s a need they say has not tapered off post-pandemic. Instead, it's expected to grow in the coming months once emergency SNAP benefits expire. However, without a permanent home, they fear they won’t be there to help.
The nonprofit shifted to emergency food pantry services during the pandemic and still serves about 750 families.
"These are your next door neighbors," said the organization's executive director, Myriam Michel. "No one is walking around with, 'I am hungry.'”
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The group serves fresh, natural food at the pantry to a diverse group of individuals in the city. During the pandemic they were operating out of an area church but once they began in person activities again they needed a new space. They moved into an area at nearby Government Center but the city asked that they eventually leave the space -- granting them the ability to store and distribute food from an abandoned school facility nearby. However, Michel says they only have a few months to use the space. The city is giving them until the end of March to move out.
Michel says the group is working with a realtor to try and find a viable space but is hitting road blocks there as well.
“No one wants a food pantry in their backyard. That's quite simple," Michel said. "And we've gotten resistance from neighborhoods in the city and residents.”
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The situation is frustrating some members of the city council including Jonathan Paz, who wants to see the city work with Healthy Waltham by extending its use of the school facility, possibly even looking to that as a permanent solution.
“It's literally a abandoned school. It has an amazing parking lot. It's centrally located for food distribution. And that would be, in my opinion, a great place to actually partner with Healthy Waltham,” Paz said.
He says he believes it's a manufactured crisis, saying, “The city has an opportunity to support an organization providing a pivotal service to thousands of families here in Waltham.”
Councilor Colleen Bradley-MacArthur agrees and thinks the city could be doing more to step up.
“They are hiding the problem,” Bradley-MacArthur said. “And the problem exists. It's a reality. It's a reality for hundreds, hundreds of families in this community.”
Meanwhile, Michel says the organization continues working with a realtor to try and find a viable space but hopes to work out an extension with the city and continue to garner more support from its residents.
She’s urging people to contact their city officials and contact the mayor, saying, “We don't want this to be sidelined. We have a very real deadline. Three months can go really quickly.”