By James Kinneen
Hometown Weekly Reporter
With the coronavirus crisis suddenly playing an outsized role in so many people’s lives, many are looking to the government for financial help. Whether it's in the form of stimulus checks coming to citizens or the bailout money coming to businesses, large numbers of Americans are looking to some level of government for financial relief.
Which is why, especially now, the Needham Community Council’s Food Pantry is so unique.
The food pantry is not funded by the town of Needham or its taxes; they are completely independent. So, while every town food pantry is in some way dependent upon the goodwill of the people, Needham’s is especially so. Unfortunately, the coronavirus crisis has made it so the Community Council can no longer accept donations of food or clothing, so it has had to purchase directly from producers and depend on its relationship with the Greater Boston Food Bank.
Because of the economic destruction the coronavirus has caused, the food pantry has waived the vetting process and instead is operating on the belief that if you’re calling to ask for help, then you must need it. As Debbie Winnick explained: “Normally, under ordinary circumstances, we require income certification, but we have waived that for now. We’re encouraging any resident that has income challenges because of COVID-19 [and] who needs food to contact us. We’re not asking for any verification. We’re not asking for any paychecks. We’re not asking for anything.”
This could be challenging, as the food pantry has already seen an increase in the numbers of families it serves, and is expecting for this trend to continue. Fortunately, the Community Council has also seen an uptick in donations recently, from a wide variety of sources.
“It’s a community effort. There are people from every walk of life in our community stepping up to help others. There are several GoFundMe pages established by Needham residents. We’ve received an enormous number of financial donations to make sure we have the funding that we need.”
One of the more unique GoFundMe pages helping the Community Council is the Front Porch Project. Started by Cara Soulia, a photographer, the project, which revolves around her photographing families on their front porches and lawns during the lockdown, has garnered national media attention and raised $20,000, which Winnick called “a game-changer.”
Another group has been purchasing Needham restaurant gift cards and donating them to the Community Council. When there are enough gift cards for each family (the food pantry values parity, where everyone gets the same amount and quality, so they’d rather not do something like a lottery if they don’t have to), every family will get a gift card. There’s a little girl making “happy cards” - messages of hope covered in smiley faces and stickers to be delivered with each food drop off - and some other Needham kids are painting rocks and putting them on people’s front patios to cheer them up.
After describing this vast number of community projects, Winnick noted: “This is when the community shows how strong it is.” So far, so good.
“Anybody that has questions should call our office (781-444-2415). We’re answering the phones with a real human being, Monday to Friday, 8:30 to 4. We have a very extensive website with links to all of our contact information and all of our programs, needhamcomunitycouncil.org. The most important thing we want to share with the community is that we’re active on Facebook and Instagram, that our website is active, and that people can call us.”