Before the COVID-19 crisis, about 9 percent of Massachusetts residents were food insecure, says Boston Area Gleaners’ executive director Usha Thakrar. According to current estimates, that number has quadrupled: A whopping 38 percent of households are having trouble putting nutritious meals on their tables. “Demand has been unprecedented,” she says. The hunger-relief agencies in the state have all shifted into high gear to get enough food to residents in need. And now, Boston Area Gleaners — which organizes volunteer trips to local farms to harvest food that would otherwise go to waste and helps get it into the hands of families — has been awarded one of the Northeast regional contracts to distribute boxes of fruits and vegetables under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. The USDA has allocated $3 billion for the purchase and distribution of agricultural products, which will support US farms and provide food to those in need.
As part of the new Farmers to Families Food Box Program, Boston Area Gleaners will purchase produce from area farms and produce vendors and then package and distribute those foods to food pantries, schools, churches, and various nonprofit hunger-relief entities. Beneficiary organizations include Food For Free, Community Servings, Food Link, Salem Public Schools, Healthy Waltham, and Mystic Community Market. BAG's partner in this effort is New Entry Sustainable Farming Project, an initiative of Tufts University’s Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy. The Food Box program runs in phases and BAG was awarded a contract for the first phase, from mid-May through June, to supply 3,700 30-pound boxes of fresh fruits and vegetables per week; 30 pounds is enough produce for a household of four to six people for one week. Thakrar says that BAG hopes to also receive a contract for the second time period, July through August, which would allow it to purchase seasonal produce from many more local farms.