Small changes can make big differences. Just ask Darra Slagle, Executive Director of Rose’s Bounty, located in the Stratford Street United Church in West Roxbury.
At the beginning of the pandemic, the food pantry’s numbers skyrocketed and they needed to take more space within the church for storage. Sadly, church halls do not always prove to be ideal food warehouses. “We had to bring our stuff up five stairs and down 12, go around a corner… it was arduous,” she says. “And our trucks would be delivering anywhere from 12,000 to 15,000 pounds of food per week.” And sometimes in summer, they would find themselves short of volunteers to do all the loading and unloading.
A 2022 Community Investment grant from GBFB enabled them to install a new service door to move food more easily from trucks to the church hall. “We put in double doors, a cement entryway and a small ramp,” Slagle says.
“The way we used to do things was so difficult that it scared away some volunteers, because it was too much work,” she explains. “Now they just wheel those pallets in and we just unload them right there onto carts. It’s been game-changing. It’s shortened the time, but also made it easy and more convenient.”
With COVID abating, Slagle thought that food insecurity would, too, but she says it hasn’t happened. “In May of 2020 – the height of the pandemic – we had 391 families come to the pantry in one month, and for us that wasn’t sustainable. So, we limited our communities to the Parkway area – Hyde Park, Jamaica Plain, Mattapan, Roslindale and West Roxbury. We’ve been serving 240-250 families a month on the Saturday that we’re open. On Fridays, it can be anywhere from 110-160. But this April 2023, we saw a big uptick.”
Chalking it up in part to the recent reduction in SNAP benefits and inflationary food costs, she adds, “I was hoping the numbers would start to drop off, but I think the opposite is happening.”
“We just can’t do it like we used to. It’s sad that our numbers are so high we must do a drive-through. Before, we had more of a relationship with our clients.” Yet Slagle remains both undaunted and imaginative.
“The silver lining of the pandemic was that we made connections with some social services agencies and were able to fulfill one of our goals, which was to get food to people who can’t come to the pantry,” she says. “The pandemic sort of facilitated that. So, now on Thursdays we’re serving 50 to 55 home-bound neighbors a week.” Volunteers and a Door Dash partnership gets the food to their clients.
Admitting it’s “a little out of our area,” she says the pantry has also partnered with a chaplain at MIT, who organizes a meal for students every Monday. Anywhere from 60 to 100 students show up each week.
But her major goal remains getting a kitchen up and running so they can offer community meals. “There’s a lot of need for socialization for some of our older clients, and a community meal would be a nice way to be able to talk to them, see how they’re doing, and while they’re here, maybe send them home with some of the things they need.”
Recently GBFB announced an additional round of Community Investment Grants to partner agencies. This investment will help them to further expand their capacity to provide additional healthy, nutritious food to meet the need in the community.