On a bitter winter day, reggae Christmas music warms up the inside of the Cambridge Community Center’s gym. Once the scene of basketball games and teen hip-hop shows, the gym has been transformed into a food pantry, and volunteers are busy sorting and bagging donated food.
What began here as a two-day-a-week operation for about 25 families has grown to four days a week, serving roughly 250 families each day — including many newcomers. A recent estimate from the nonprofit “Feeding America” — a nationwide network of food banks — found that roughly 40 percent of people seeking assistance from food banks never needed the help before.
Outside the center, people are positioning carts in line to try to hold their places. The center’s facilities manager, Lawrence Battle, known as LB, urges them to keep six feet apart and then turns to help supervise a delivery. LB now helps keep the pantry ticking along and is a front-line witness to what’s unfolded.
“It's surprising. I mean, I see people with jobs who I consider good jobs that are here in line getting food,” LB said, “Never mind the people that are unemployed and lost their jobs. I mean, it's just tremendous. “
Despite the fact that unprecedented numbers now need food aid, there’s a desire among most on line to stay anonymous. The idea that it’s “the fault of individuals that they can’t eat” is an attitude ingrained in American society, said Sasha Purpura, executive director of the organization “Food for Free.”
One woman who said she’d never even thought about a food pantry until she lost her job in the pandemic explained why she didn’t give her name.
“There is a stigma because you don't want your friends to know that you're standing in line. And there's even the people next door, I mean, they look at us across the street like, you know, we shouldn't be here,” she said. “[That] you're really like lowlifes, you know? So that's why you don't want anybody to know that you're standing out here.”
For the full story, click the audio player above.