Demand at the Newton Food Pantry has tripled since the pandemic, according to Vice President Regina Wu, who said the organization has been offering free groceries to anyone who lives in the city.
Wu said the pantry often has around 150 cars lining up within four hours of distribution time. Prior to COVID-19, obtaining the food from the pantry required a form from Health and Human Services, Wu said. However, the pantry now provides free food for anyone who can provide proof of residency in Newton.
Mary Doherty, a Newton resident who said she has received food from the pantry for five years, said it’s been crowded lately, but “they’ve done the best they could.”
“They’ve been very efficient, but the car line is just insane, " Doherty said.
To maintain the safety of clients and volunteers, the Newton Food Pantry moved its operation outside. Also, instead of allowing residents to choose like in a grocery store, the pantry now provides three pre-packed bags — cold foods, produce, and dry goods.
Each Wednesday afternoon outside the war memorial auditorium of the City Hall, Wu said, the pantry serves about 250 households — up from about 90 households before COVID-19. The pantry also allows households to come twice a month instead of the once-a-month limit in the past.
In an interview in Mandarin, Dongbin Liao, who lives in Newton, said the free food really helps lower the burden during pandemic. Among other things, he said, it’s helpful to not have to go out as much for groceries.
During the pandemic, Wu said, it is hard for the pantry to maintain the supply of food.
“Not only are we feeding more people more often, but there are food supply shortages,” Wu said.
The pantry gets its food from The Greater Boston Food Bank, Wu said, and when it is out of staples, the Newton pantry purchases food.
“I am so grateful for every little thing that I get because it’s stuff that I would have gone without,” Doherty said. “It’s survival mode.”
Wu said community donations have been essential: “It’s been really amazing to see the community recognize how many people are turning to the food pantry and see a lot of our old donors and as well as new donors.”
Some meat distributors have donated to the pantry, Wu said, and Costco has allowed the pantry to buy “enormous” amounts of toilet paper, among other things.
The pantry’s refrigerated truck is also a donation rental, Wu said, saving thousands of dollars for the organization. A local company donates the diesel oil, coming to City Hall every three weeks to fill up the tank, she said, and residents donate grocery bags.
“We’re very, very grateful to our Newton neighbors because we couldn’t do this without their support,” Wu said.
Doherty, who previously worked as an in-home service provider for children with mental health issues, said she used to be the one helping people, and now she is the one asking for help.
“It resonates with me — the difference that I made in other people’s lives,” she said.
Doherty pointed to how pantry volunteers were “risking their lives” and “not getting paid.”
“They’re doing this out of the goodness of their hearts,” she said.
Since the pandemic, Wu said, the Newton Food Pantry has doubled — “maybe even tripled” — its operating budget.
“In the sadness of seeing so many people need food is seeing the community come together,” she said.
Yumeng Zhang can be reached at email@example.com.