Food pantries in Massachusetts are seeing a large increase in need this holiday season as more local families are trying to make ends meet.

Pantry shelves are currently bare at Bread and Roses Community Kitchen and Food Pantryin Lawrence, prompting the organization to send out a memo titled "We've never seen anything like this."

Ashleigh Shaw, development and communications associate at Bread and Roses, said the need for food has increased in the past eight to 10 months due to inflation, the state's influx of migrants, and the expiration of both COVID-era SNAP benefits and the child tax credit.

"We've really frankly been struggling to keep up with the increased need," Shaw said.

Popular items at the pantry include rice, beans, pasta, sauce and fresh produce. Shaw noted that Bread and Roses doesn't require ID or a referral to get food.

"This year is really unlike any year we've ever seen, frankly, in our history. It's really just a lot of people who need assistance and are not finding it anywhere else," she said.

"We've really frankly been struggling to keep up with the increased need."
Ashleigh Shaw, development and communications associate at Bread and Roses

Josh Young, vice president of field operations and legislative affairs at Action for Boston Community Development, also noted an uptick in need at the organization's food access sites, where he said there were a few empty shelves on Wednesday.

The organization has delivered 1,600 holiday meals this year, up from about 1,250 last year.

Young noted factors such as the high costs of food, rent, utilities and medicine have driven people to ABCD for aid. Newly arrived migrants are also frequent customers, he said.

"They're requesting food and clothing as well as some small personal items, and there definitely has been an uptick in those folks arriving at our food access centers," Young said.

Open Door food pantry in Gloucester and Ipswich expects to distribute more than 1,200 holiday baskets for Thanksgiving — with turkey and all the fixings — according to the organization.

The pantries have met more than a 28% increase in visits this year compared to last year.

Valerie Callahan, director of planning and development at Greater Lynn Senior Services, which spearheaded Phoenix Food Hub, said the need for food hasn't gone away since the pandemic spike in food insecurity.

"The demand that we saw during COVID did not really decrease after we moved from pandemic to endemic, we just became more away of these hidden pockets of folks who are struggling with food insecurity," Callahan said.

Where to find help or donate

Regional food banks can provide information about pantries and programs near you:
Greater Boston Food Bank in Eastern Massachusetts
Worcester County Food Bank in Central Massachusetts
The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts
Merrimack Valley Food Bank in Northeastern Massachusetts

Project Bread also operates the FoodSource Hotline at 1-800-645-8333, providing information about local pantries as well as state and federal resources. The hotline assists callers in 180 languages.