By Mike LaBella
---- — From Thanksgiving to Christmas, local food banks and pantries are usually well taken care of.
Year after year, members of the community come forward during the holiday season with tons of food to restock their shelves.
But for the rest of the year, things don’t always look as bright and local organizations that collect and provide food to those in need often must struggle to keep up with the demand.
In an effort to bring attention to the year round need for donations of food to help feed children and adults, Emmaus, Inc. has launched a Spring Food-a-Thon, in cooperation with the Massachusetts Service Alliance.
The drive, which began March 1 and ends April 30, seeks to raise awareness about a lack of food in Haverhill, while collecting donations to help restock the shelves of the Emmaus food bank.
Emmaus officials said hunger is a year round issue and, through the generosity of members of the Greater Haverhill and Merrimack Valley community, the organization is striving to make its food bank sustainable yearround. The Emmaus food bank serves formerly homeless individuals and families.
“Every year, we receive an abundance of food donations during the holiday season,” said Jeanine Murphy, executive director of Emmaus. “By spring, our reserves get very low. Emmaus is committed to providing healthy food to those we serve throughout the year. With grant funding from the Massachusetts Service Alliance, we hope to collect enough food to carry us through the summer months.”
So far, nearly 20 businesses and community partners, including the Haverhill public schools, have agreed to take boxes for food donations and/or mason jars for monetary donations for the food bank. Emmaus hopes that others will take part in the drive.
Emmaus is also participating in the National Feinstein Hunger Challenge. The Feinstein Foundation will match dollar-for-dollar any monetary donations to Emmaus during the period of the food drive. The Feinstein Foundation will also contribute a dollar amount based on the number of food items collected. For a donation to be eligible for this match, “Feinstein Challenge” must be noted in the check’s memo line.
This is the 17th year the Feinstein Foundation will divide $1 million among U.S. agencies fighting hunger. The foundation only matches donations given during March and April for this challenge.
Partnerships and contributions were acknowledged during volunteer service days on April 11 and 12. During those two service days, volunteers from throughout the area sorted, counted and stacked food donations and contributed to other projects to help clean and beautify the Emmaus food bank.
Three AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) workers spent the last seven months working in various roles at Emmaus and are coordinating the Spring Food-a-Thon and volunteer service days with support from Emmaus staff members. AmeriCorps VISTA is a service program designated to fight poverty in America by capacity building at their project site or organization.
“Emmaus is delighted to have attracted three bright and enthusiastic young women to spend their year of service focused on supporting Emmaus’ work in the community,” said Gretchen Arntz, chief development officer for Emmaus Inc.
The VISTA volunteers, Alexandra Elwell, Alison Lee and Gabriella Berger, provided local organizations with a “wish list” featuring healthier food items such as brown rice, low sodium soups and all natural juices. Perishable items such as fresh fruits and vegetables are always needed.
To request a donation box, mason jar or to volunteer, please call 978-241-3412.
Founded in 1985, Emmaus Inc. is a nonprofit organization devoted to helping families and individuals rebuild their lives. It is the largest provider of emergency shelter in Essex County. Emmaus offers meals, transitional and permanent housing, job training, and support services to those in need through programs — Emmaus Family House, Mitch’s Place, Gilead House, Bethel Transitional Apartments, Bethel Business Center, Jericho House, Evergreen Place, Emerson Street Apartments, Winter Street Housing, and the Housing Assistance Program.
Emmaus feeds 250 people daily in its programs. In 2013, Emmaus served nearly 80,000 meals. Help Emmaus provide even more to those in need.