Updated at 11:20 a.m. Nov. 21
The phones are ringing steadily at the Worcester County Food Bank.
“Everybody wants to help out,” chief executive Jean G. McMurray said. “The other side of it is the phone calls and the emails that we're getting from people who are looking for assistance.”
Food banks and pantries across Massachusetts are seeing more and more need. Rising inflation and higher gas prices have made food more expensive, while a slow economy and changes to government assistance mean many people have less money to spend.
The Worcester County Food Bank assisted 47,072 people last month, 25% more people than the roughly 38,000 they helped in both October 2021 and October 2020, closer to the height of pandemic restrictions that left thousands of people out of work.
The Greater Boston Food Bank, which is currently serving about 600,000 people a month, also reports increased demand over the past couple years.
“I think we also have to remember that for the last six months of 2021, families were receiving the child tax credit payments, and those were monthly cash benefits of up to $3,600 per child,” said McMurray, from the Worcester County Food Bank. “And when those ended in December of 2021 and Congress did not reauthorize them for 2022, that was huge for families who had been receiving that benefit, because it's been shown that those monthly cash benefits helped to decrease child poverty by 50%.”
While the need is growing, so is people’s will to help, McMurray said.
“I've always said if we can keep the two [need and help] at the same pace, then we feel like we're doing a good job. But there is tremendous need,” she said.
On the North Shore, Open Door Food Pantry in Gloucester has been hosting food drives ahead of the holidays.
The pantry’s volunteers will pack up 1,500 baskets of Thanksgiving food, and another 1,500 in December. That’s a 20% increase over last year, said Julie Hazen LaFontaine, chief executive of the Open Door Food Pantry.
“We're glad that we've planned for it, because we're certainly seeing people signing up, people coming for help, people maybe who've never come before,” Hazen LaFontaine said.
People who want to donate food or money are welcome to do so, she said, though the pantry is seeing higher needs for non-holiday foods.
“We’re not asking for cranberry and stuffing. We're not asking for turkey,” Hazen LaFontaine said. “All of those things were ordered months ago to be sure that we could meet the need for the Thanksgiving holiday. Instead, we're focused in on breakfast items, understanding that with kids out on school vacation, families will have more meals to feed their children.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly attributed the number of people served at Worcester County Food Bank to the Greater Boston Food Bank. We regret the error.