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Daniel’s Table keeps evolving to fight food insecurity in Framingham

Alicia Blais works with volunteer Greg Lagan (vice principal at Framingham High) as they pack 200 shopping bags with enough food for a family of four for one week at Daniel's Kitchen.
Alicia Blais works with volunteer Greg Lagan (vice principal at Framingham High) as they pack 200 shopping bags with enough food for a family of four for one week at Daniel's Kitchen.Matthew J. Lee/Globe staff

Since founding Daniel’s Table in November 2011, David and Alicia Blais have responded to each new challenge to their mission of ending food insecurity in Framingham with creativity and a renewed sense of dedicated purpose.

When demand outpaced their ability to deliver hot meals to residents by food trucks, the couple changed their distribution model. For the past two years, Daniel’s Table has provided fresh produce at a monthly farmers market while stocking nutritionally dense, restaurant-quality meals in more than 20 freezers overseen by school nurses, social workers, and advocates throughout the city.

Now that only seven freezers in public buildings remain accessible due to the COVID-19 pandemic, however, Daniel’s Table has once again adjusted in order to meet demand — which has surged from 2,000 to 10,000 meals each week. To supplement the freezer program, a food pantry has opened for Framingham residents on Wednesdays, from 4 to 6:30 p.m., and Fridays, from 1 to 3 p.m., at 10 Pearl St.

“We still have our regular clientele, but all of a sudden, we began seeing more new faces and hearing new concerns,” said David Blais. “That really woke us up.”

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Prior to the COVID-19 emergency, the nonprofit’s $40,000 monthly operating budget was funded through a combination of the couple’s DT Kitchen catering services, hall and office rentals, and private donations. (The organization’s paid staff consists of four part-time employees. Blais, who is president of the board, is one of more than 100 unpaid volunteers.)

“When the coronavirus dried up the catering and rental business, some very generous donors stepped up,” Blais said of Daniel’s Table, which the couple named for their son who died at birth in 1995. “The challenge will be donor fatigue when we’re still steeped in this financial crisis because people won’t want to go to a party with 100 people, even when restrictions are lifted.”

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With unemployment rates escalating to heights not seen since the Great Depression, Blais believes that collaboration among other nonprofits providing food programs will be essential to their collective survival.

Toward that end, he has created an app that would enable service providers to ensure clients are getting the amount of food they need without compromising privacy. It has not yet been utilized.

“We know that some people aren’t getting enough food, while others have too much because they’re picking up from us and then going around the corner to another provider,” said Blais. “The app would eliminate duplication of services, while also allowing us to see if someone isn’t using their meals, which could prompt us to make a phone call to see if everything is OK.”

Daniel’s Table is one of a dozen organizations listed on the city of Framingham’s website from which city residents can access food. In addition, residents experiencing an extreme food emergency — defined as having no access to those food organizations, nor a support network — can call 508-532-5479.

Alexandra DePalo, assistant director of public health for the city, said she has not seen the app, but supports efforts “not to make a full-time job of finding food.”

“Daniel’s Table does great work, as do the other food providers who have also seen unbelievable increases in demand,” said DePalo, who participates with the organizations on a biweekly Zoom conference to compare trends and keep the lines of communication open. “Many people have really stepped up in a major way.”

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However, Blais is looking toward the future with a longer-term goal. Ultimately, he aims to develop a self-sustaining model that other cities may emulate in order to become food secure.

“It’s not a program. It’s a solution,” Blais said. “As long as we have the funds to keep going.”

For more information, visit danielstable.org.

Cindy Cantrell may be reached at cindycantell20@gmail.com.

Alicia and David Blais stand in the door of one of their delivery trucks while people wait in line for groceries. They founded Daniel’s Kitchen in November 2011 with the mission to feed families that need short-term help giving them a shopping bag with enough food for a family of four for one week. Since the coronavirus pandemic, they have seen a four-fold increase in needy families.
Alicia and David Blais stand in the door of one of their delivery trucks while people wait in line for groceries. They founded Daniel’s Kitchen in November 2011 with the mission to feed families that need short-term help giving them a shopping bag with enough food for a family of four for one week. Since the coronavirus pandemic, they have seen a four-fold increase in needy families. Matthew J. Lee/Globe staff