Once a month, Richard Ball wakes up bright and early and makes his way over to Pentucket Lake Elementary School. He isn’t going there to study or teach, but to get some extra groceries.
Ball participates in the Elder Services Brown Bag Food Program run by the Greater Boston Food Bank and the Elder Services of the Merrimack Valley. The program is designed for elderly or disabled people who have trouble affording groceries on their own incomes.
“It’s wonderful,” said Ball, who lives in low-income housing in Haverhill. “It makes things a whole lot easier. You don’t get a lot in food stamps, so this helps out a lot.”
Ball learned about the program while volunteering to pick up groceries for his mother. While he was doing that, he learned that he was also eligible for the program. To be eligible, one must be 60 years of age or older or be disabled and living independently in elderly housing. They must also have a gross household income of under $19,240 or be receiving Medicaid, food stamps, veteran’s aid or Supplemental Social Security Income.
Laura Marsan of Elder Services runs the program each week and said there has been a need for several years in Haverhill and neighboring cities and towns for this kind of help.
“There was a huge need for food in the Merrimack Valley,” Marsan said. “Haverhill is a good spot because then we can serve a lot of the surrounding communities.”
The program also operates in Lowell and Lawrence. Haverhill and Lowell participate one day a month while Lawrence participates two days a month. A total of 2,275 bags of food are distributed among the three sites each month, including 550 in Haverhill.
Each participant must fill out an application for the program in order to be eligible. Once Elder Services knows how many people will be attending each session, it calls the Greater Boston Food Bank to report how many bags of food will be needed. The food bank then delivers the food to the school, and volunteers put the food into brown bags. Food items include dry pasta, cereal, bread, peanut butter, cheese, meat and poultry.
Eligible residents can pick the food up two ways. They can drive to the school, where the bags are loaded into their cars, or they can pick up bags at their local senior citizens centers or elderly housing complexes.
“About 50 members pick up their own groceries,” Marsan said. “The rest are group pickups.”
Barbara O’Shea was at the distribution last week and helped put food into bags. She marveled at how organized the process was in getting the food from the Greater Boston Food Bank into the hands of residents.
“It’s amazing how organized they are,” said O’Shea. “It’s like a production line.”
The program takes place on the first Tuesday of every month at Pentucket Lake Elementary School. Members can pick up their brown bag of groceries between 10:15 a.m. and 11:45 a.m. For more information on how to become a member or a volunteer, one can contact th
e Elder Services of the Merrimack Valley.