Cambridge’s Food for Free provides a lesson on pivoting

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — A team of volunteers keeps the make-shift assembly line humming at Cambridge’s Food for Free.

They’re putting together important packages of fresh produce and a wide selection of essential groceries.

This new Cambridge Community Food Line was up and running in just a few weeks out of a function room in the city’s senior center.

“Right now, we have three shifts of 10 volunteers each come into pack bags, we have 30 drivers a day come in in sets of five to deliver bags of food,” executive director Sasha Purpura explained.

The organization is providing vital nutrition for people who make up the new face of hunger.

Purpura says the program traditionally relies on getting food to children through schools but had to change their model as the pandemic closed everything down.

“There were so many more people that, now, did not have access to the food they needed, but we didn't step back and think about anything, we just moved, we just put a program together and we figured it out as we went,” Purpura explained.

Every day, about 9,000 pounds of food is delivered to the senior center and put into individual relief bags.

About 700 families screened by the city get food delivered right to their door. These are people who can't get to a food pantry or shouldn't be in a crowded grocery store.

We are really trying to make sure that the people on this list are not people that could go to the supermarket and buy food or use Instacart but they're just afraid to go out.

As need continues to grow, Purpura is already thinking of how this program can expand. One thing is for sure, she knows none of it could be done without all these volunteers.

“It means that we exist. I mean when we saw this coming, the Thursday before the decision came to close the schools, we sent out an email saying, ‘hey, we might need some help, we might need volunteers during this event.’ In 24 hours, it was up to 800 people. It's now over 2600 volunteers,” Purpura said.

People like Barbara Dorritie, who would prefer to be in her classroom teaching biology, are showing up every day to help. Being involved here lifts spirits through dark days.

“I feel like I just want to spend as much time giving the community and feeling like, I really feel like when I can do that, I feel better about the situation as a whole,” Dorritie said. “I'm afraid if this wasn't going on, these people would really be struggling with nutrition and hunger.

Right now, the program is limited due to the size of their delivery truck. They’re in the process of getting a second truck, which will allow Food for Free to add a second shift of volunteers and, fortunately, that’s one thing that doesn’t appear to be in short supply right how.

To participate in the Cambridge Community Food Line, call 617-349-9155.

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