Mobile food bank expands into Easthampton

August 3, 2017
In The News

EASTHAMPTON — More than 100 people lined up in a parking lot behind the Mill 180 building Thursday afternoon, opening their bags and filling them with fresh produce from the new Easthampton mobile food bank.

Frank and Shirley Colman stopped by, filling their bags with fresh potatoes, carrots, lettuce, cauliflower and cucumbers.

“Sometimes we have a lot of bills to pay,” Frank Colman, 77, said. “We have food stamps, but it’s not enough.”

Colman said times became tough after his retirement. At home, the Colmans help provide food for their two daughters and grandchild. They say there’s another grandchild on the way.

“I cook for everyone,” Shirley Colman, 67, said. With the carrots, she said she will sprinkle on some spices and roast them in the oven.

The mobile food bank, operated by the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts, is one of three in Hampshire County. The others are in Amherst and Ware.

The local mobile food bank made its first Easthampton appearance on June 15. It partners with the Easthampton Community Center to provide food the first and third Thursday of every month.

Privacy is important, the food bank’s director of development and marketing Sarah Tsitso says. No names or addresses are taken, only the number of people in each household and if there are children or seniors, to determine their need for food.

Much of the food is donated by area farmers, although the Food Bank sometimes has to purchase provisions.

Robin Bialecki, the community center’s executive director, has gotten to know many food bank clients. Some come from abusive situations. Some live out of a car. She said elders seeking help can face criticism by their family.

“It’s difficult to ask for help,” Bialecki said.

For some who are homebound, Bialecki makes deliveries. She checks in with them, gets to know their family and, in certain circumstances, calls the police to do a welfare check.

“I try very hard to learn about the families,” Bialecki said. She said she finds out a person’s allergies or medications that they need.

On Thursday, Bialecki and community center volunteers were joined by city and state officials to help provide fresh produce to those with food insecurity.

Sen. Donald Humason Jr., R-Westfield, was handing out cauliflower and chatted with people as they filled their bags.

“Cauliflower mac ’n’ cheese tonight,” a woman said while the senator place the vegetable in her bag.

“I like mine roasted with olive oil and garlic,” Humason replied.

Humason said it’s helpful for him to see programs such as the Massachusetts Emergency Food Assistance Program in action and how they impact his constituents.

As Mayor Karen Cadieux handed out potatoes, many people recognized her, and some gave her a hug. City Council President Joseph McCoy was by her side handing out carrots.

“We’re going to miss you,” one resident said as the mayor gave her a bag of potatoes.

“I’m not leaving, just retiring,” Cadieux replied with a smile.

U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, D-Springfield, manned the lettuce station.

He said two veterans came by who weren’t getting much assistance through veterans services. Another man mentioned his rent.

“I listened to what they had to say,” he said. “You have people from all walks of life standing in those lines today. It’s not what you would surmise if you didn’t see them, meet them or talk to them.”

Within the hour, the line died down, but boxes of produce were still unopened. Tsitso said the food banks never run out of food.

“We always bring more than we think we’re going to need,” Tsitso said.

Caitlin Ashworth can be reached at cashworth@gazettenet.com.