Chelsea pop-up pantry provides food for hundreds in city hit hard by coronavirus

CHELSEA — Hundreds of Chelsea residents lined the street Tuesday to receive boxes of food from a pop-up pantry in a city that has been hit hard by the coronavirus outbreak.

Wearing masks and standing several feet apart, about 725 people lined up outside local coffee shop Pan Y Cafe to receive bundles of fruit, vegetables, dairy, rice, pasta and more.

Chelsea City Council President Roy Avellaneda, owner of Pan Y Cafe, which has been closed for three weeks due to the pandemic, helped coordinate the effort with the Chelsea Collaborative and several local businesses and community volunteers donating their time and products.

Supplementing the city's already existing food pantries in the increased time of need, the group is determined not to let any families go hungry.

"We were overwhelmed today. The line was out and around the corner," Avellaneda said. "We originally thought we were going to do once a week, to supplement what the city was doing. But the need was so high and we received additional contributions. So, we said, 'Let's do an extra day.'"

The Chelsea Collaborative is also delivering prepared meals for vulnerable residents who cannot leave their homes.

The increased need reflects just how hard coronavirus has hit Chelsea. There were more than 540 positive COVID-19 cases by Monday.

Because the city is dense, with so many living in multi-families and relying on public transit, social distancing is difficult. More than 80 percent of the workforce are essential workers, most in the service industry, without the ability to work from home.

"They're grateful," Avellaneda said of the people he and other volunteers provided boxes for. "Sometimes they're coming in and saying that it's not only for them, but they have a relative that is elderly or a parent who can't stand in line."

The pop-up pantry will be open on a loose schedule, likely on Tuesdays with the potential for another day or two each week.

Those looking to donate non-perishable goods can do so at Pan Y Cafe, at 173 Washington St. Call 617-889-6080 to coordinate drop-offs.