Food Insecurity and COVID-19

Non profits help people in need in Newton and around the globe

Newton+Food+Pantry

Courtesy

Newton Food Pantry

Hina Sheikh and Hailey Jiang, Staff Writers

COVID-19 has affected millions of people around the world, leaving many people with no jobs and little money. We interviewed two different organizations to gather more insight on how the pandemic has affected families here in Newton and around the globe.

The Newton Food Pantry is a non-profit organization founded in 1983, making it the oldest food pantry in Newton. Regina Wu, president of the Newton Food Pantry talked abouot how the organization has assisted families in need during the pandemic. 

The Newton Food Pantry used to be a choice pantry, where clients went in and took what they needed. However, since the pandemic hit, they have switched to giving out pre-bagged goods. “It’s too dangerous to have people still be doing [the choice pantry], so we switched to pre-bagged goods to limit the contact between our clients and our workers,” Wu said.

Many people in Newton have lost their jobs as a result of the pandemic, and the Newton Food Pantry has had to triple the amount of bags they give out. Wu said volunteers put a variety of items in the bags such as staples like rice, pasta, canned goods, also eggs, milk, laundry detergent, bars of soap, and cooking oil. The Newton Food Pantry has also moved outdoors and only allows three to four volunteers at once. Everyone is required to wear a mask and stay six feet apart. Their clients stay in their cars and are handed the pre-bagged goods.

Wu said people find out about the Newton Food Pantry a variety of different ways. “We collaborate with Health and Well-Being Services, as well as school guidance counselors and ELL teachers. Sometimes if a child is getting other services, their school recommends us. Also through mouth, people hear about us by mouth and come to us. We also try to advertise a bit,” she said.

When asked what donations best benefit the Newton Food Pantry, Regina  gave lots of options. “Instead of donating a few different items, it would be better for us if you get one product rather than a variety,” she said.  For example, it’s better to donate fifteen pasta boxes instead of three cans of chicken, five pasta boxes, and one bottle of cooking oil. This way they can put just one of the donated items in each bag, instead of a couple different items in different bags.

There are an abundance of different ways to help the Newton Food Pantry. “Home baking, for example, selling homemade items like cookies and donating half the money to us. Someone, a few years ago, made bracelets and donated the money to us,” Wu said, “There are also direct financial donations.”

At the end of our interview, Wu gave us some important final words. “If you look at the stats, you can tell Newton is not a very rich city. You can tell people how many families we’re serving, especially with the economy, there has been a big increase in money insecurities. We serve around 800 people. People need to know food insecurity is real, no matter what people might be saying. Encourage people and tell them if they want to do something, do it. Always remember to focus on the fact that it’s not poverty, it’s people have other things they need to pay for, like rent and insurance.”

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We interviewed Zaafira Kazi, Deputy Area Manager in the New England Region of Helping Hand for Relief and Development (HHRD). HHRD is another organization supporting poverty/money insecurities. Founded in 2005, HHRD supports an abundance of countries around the world, not just Newton. 

HHRD primarily started its work in Pakistan a third-world country that has an immense amount of poverty. Kazi said they find countries that need assistance by looking “in areas where there are natural disasters or man-made, through wars, and then poverty-stricken areas as well.” 

Ever since the pandemic hit, several organizations have changed their guidelines, to limit the exposure of the virus, including HHRD. “Our teams on the ground also did informative sessions for beneficiaries in schools and communities on maintaining hygiene, social-distancing, and wearing masks.” Kazi said. They have been making sure to supply families with hygiene essentials. Zaafira Kazi reported, “We provide a frontline hero with essential Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).”

 About a few months ago, Pakistan and Hyderabad, India had been suffering a flood in their countries. HHRD transported healthcare kits to people who need immediate assistance. “Some stuff we can send from our own offices, but with healthcare, there needs to be a good amount of them and have a long shelf life.”  Kazi answered. “So, we try to get companies or communities to donate them–not the money directly to us–but, they gather the money so they can buy [the materials], and donate them to us to send.”

HHRD has been distributing in-kind containers to various countries. “We try to push for more brand new things… clothing, toys, shoes, linens, diapers, sanitary pads, those are all brand new,” Kazi said. “We usually run (our campaigns) for 2-4 months, depending on how long it takes to gather everything. We put lists into fliers, so that everyone knows what we are collecting for.”

Since HHRD has assisted several countries, we inquired about which country Helping Hand has supported the most.  Kazi mentioned, “We support Pakistan the most as HHRD’s work began there over 15 years ago.” 

To conclude, Kazi had these last words of wisdom: “Our goal is to provide international and humanitarian relief. Anyone who wants to learn more is welcome to volunteer and/or stop by our office.“