At a time of growing hunger due to the pandemic and the floundering economy, a group of Ipswich students is helping local people in need put food on their tables.
In partnership with two local farms and a food pantry, the Ipswich Middle/High School Green Team in December launched a “Hello Neighbor Fridge” project to provide fresh produce and other healthy foods free to local families.
At two locations in town, a mini-refrigerator and shelves are stocked with foods available to any community members who need them, according to Amy Farr Borgman, one of two adult mentors for the sustainability club that includes Ipswich middle and high school students.
The team came up with the idea during discussion last fall about how it might assist the community at a time of pandemic.
“We realized quickly that there was a food insecurity problem,” Borgman said, and providing food at discreet locations seemed a good way to help “while uniting neighbors.”
“Unfortunately there is a big shame around being hungry and needing food,” Borgman said. The team wanted to offer “a really friendly place to go” where people could easily access what they need.
The distribution stations were established at Town Hall and Zumi’s Espresso shop downtown. When Town Hall recently closed to the public due to COVID-19, that station moved to the Ipswich Family YMCA.
Zumi’s owner, Umesh Bhuju, said his shop is currently all takeout, so he was happy to set aside a corner of it for the Green Team.
“What they are doing is wonderful,” he said, noting that the project connects with his own interest in supporting the community and promoting social justice.
Three Sisters Garden Project, a nonprofit farm, is supplying produce from its year-round greenhouse, while Russell Orchards is providing winter squash. The other food is from The Open Door Ipswich Community Food Pantry.
“The pandemic has been the impetus for some really great innovations and partnerships. This is a good example of partners finding a way to leverage more resources in a time of need,” said Julie LaFonatine, president and CEO of The Open Door, whose main pantry is in Gloucester.
Students take turns inventorying and restocking the food stations.
“I just thought this would be a great chance to help our community in these times when people are just suffering through the economic crisis,” said high school freshmen and Green Team member Angelica De La Cruz.
HIgh school junior Ella Borgman, a longtime Green Team member, likes how the project supports a goal of the team to unite the community.
“It also targets a real food crisis in the nation and is a way we can do something locally about it,” added Borgman, a daughter of Amy Farr Borgman. And the project “reminds me of my passion to help other people and to be sustainable and healthy while doing that.”
The eight-year-old Green Team has undertaken many projects, including creating a community garden, efforts that earned a national award in 2019 from the US Environmental Protection Agency.
The team has worked previously with its three collaborators in the current project, including donating crops from its garden to the Ipswich pantry.
“The pantry is a year-round food resource,” LaFontaine said, “but for many people finding themselves food insecure for the first time, Hello Neighbor Fridge makes an easy access point for them to get help.”
Ella Borgman said the project has shown her hunger is an issue even in her town.
“When we began, we weren’t sure if people would be taking the food. Then we saw the food disappearing from the shelves,” she said. “I was happy but also kind of sad because it showed there is hunger and it is a problem in Ipswich.”
For more information on the Ipswich Middle/High School Green Team go to sustainableipswich.org.
John Laidler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.