Food pantries team up with local restaurants to feed families and keep workers employed

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Two things have become apparent as a result of the pandemic: food pantries are stretched thin and many restaurants are struggling to keep their doors open.

A new program launched by the Newton-Needham Regional Chamber has put something new on the menu at local food banks and it’s giving restaurants a much-needed boost.

“This program allows us to help both which is really remarkable,” said Greg Reibman, president of the chamber.

The Centre Street Food Pantry in Newton has always had the basics like eggs, milk, bananas, and diapers. Now, clients can also take home a meal prepared by a local restaurant.

“Our restaurants have been really hurting for a year now,” explained Reibman. “At the same time, we know so many members of the public have been suffering from food insecurity.”

After getting a state grant for $175,000, they set up a program to buy meals from local restaurants, which are then donated to food pantries.

“I definitely think it makes a difference right now, as we get into the end of winter,” said Reibman. “Restaurants are really just trying to get through the next few months.”

The program is creating a steady stream of business for Anna’s Taqueria in Newton Highlands. Manager Rob Favuzza said they signed up right away when they heard of this concept. “The income that it brings in allows us to maintain staff, so that’s our goal, it’s to get everyone back as fast as possible.”

Newton, Needham, Brookline, and Wellesley are all participating. Reibman says it’s a misconception that there there isn’t need in these communities. “We have a lot of people out of work. We have a lot of people who are not as well off as you might expect. We have a lot of seniors who are afraid to go out.”

Rose Saia, manager at the Centre Street Food Pantry, said demand has been extraordinary over the past year. “We have more than doubled the number of families that we serve. The number of people has actually tripled.” That’s due to an increasing number of large families now looking for assistance.

These meals fill a void the pantry has had trouble filling, according to Saia. “It’s hard to provide families with prepared foods, and it’s not just the convenience. You know, many of these families are working and want to get good food on the table for themselves and their children.”

The Rotary Club of Newton is handling the logistics for the program. Sue Peghiny says bringing all of the players together, with the goal of keeping people fed and working, is having an uplifting effect.

“That’s what community is, right? Knowing that you’re not out there all by yourself, that you have somebody else who has your back, or who is supporting you, working for what you’re working for,” explained Peghiny.

The program is currently funded through June. By then, it’s expected more than 10,000 meals will have been purchased from local restaurants – and found their way to someone in need.

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