Ways to warm the community this holiday season

Photo Credit: Unsplash / Joel Muniz

By Yoon Young (Nicole) Chang

Boston University News Service

Local nonprofit organizations and food pantries are looking for community members who are willing to give back this holiday season amid rising food and heating costs. Food prices in Boston increased 12.2 percent over the year since September 2021, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, and 32 percent of adults in Massachusetts experienced food insecurity in 2021, according to The Greater Boston Food Bank’s 2022 report.  

In response, the City of Boston recently launched the “Find Your Food Pantry” campaign that allows residents to check their eligibility, apply for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and establish connections with local food pantries, using a new kiosk at City Hall beginning Nov. 15.

“I encourage residents to reach out to their neighborhood organizations and give back – whether that be by donating or spending time volunteering,” said Chief of Community Engagement Bureau Brianna Millor in the press release.

The Greater Boston Food Bank (GBFB) is one organization mobilizing to fight hunger. The GBFB’s Hunger-Free Holidays campaign, partnered with Stop & Shop and the Biogen Foundation, is raising funds to serve holiday meals, meal boxes and grocery cards to food-insecure families and children. To match up to $450,000 with the partners from Nov. 1 to Dec. 31, the GBFB introduces five ways to take action in the “chain of giving” using social media. 

The five steps include: donating $30 for a family’s holiday meal, sharing a post on social media using the GBFB’s graphics, informing friends about the Hunger Free Holidays campaign, setting up a peer-to-peer fundraising team and signing up for in-person volunteer opportunities with hunger-relief agencies. 

Gary Roy, Assistant Director of the Public Relations team at GBFB, noted how great it is for  college students who have some time and willingness to give back to the community to be part of the solution. 

“When [a lot of food pantries] get college students interested in helping them, they get very excited, because college students bring a lot of energy to the food pantry with your enthusiasm to help,” Roy said. 

While the GBFB website allows residents to find 600 local food distribution partners that they can volunteer at, Roy said, residents are encouraged to reach out to the food pantries directly  especially during the holiday season.  

“Throughout the year, many residents are finding it difficult to put food on the table, but especially during the season, everyone deserves a healthy holiday meal,” Roy said. “So the Greater Boston Food Bank is here to help.” 

Another organization, Action for Boston Community Development (ABCD) hosts three events throughout the holiday season that can warm up the community, including a food drive, toy drive and winter gears drive. 

Thanksgiving meal boxes were distributed on Sunday and Monday that week as part of the food drive, according to Alexia Layne-Lomon, the Director of Development and Grants at ABCD. The organization received in-kind donations, worked with food pantries and raised money throughout the year to purchase products.  

The next event is their toy drive, where they collect and give away approximately 3000 toys to 800 families, targeting children through the age of 12.  To take part in the drive, individuals can set up a donation box in the group or community, collect toys and drop them off at the ABCD collection site in Dorchester. 

“Every year, it’s just us trying kind of from ground zero with past donors, and within the community, we try to get folks involved,” Layne-Lomon said. “A lot of businesses will host a toy drive within their business, and folks will host toy drives at their holiday parties.” 

Before distribution, volunteers help sort the toys by age and type, which is a task in which ABCD is always looking for extra hands. The sorting session this year will take place on Dec. 1 and Dec. 2.

When the winter hits and costs increase, many families with tight incomes get to choose between buying a toy for their children or paying a heating bill, Layne-Lomon said. Therefore, this type of event and people’s participation is a big deal, especially during this period.

“There’s pressure that the children experience, and there’s also pressure that the parents experience to overextend themselves financially,” Layne-Lomon said. “So that’s why some people might say, ‘oh, what’s the big deal with toys,’ but it is a really big deal.”

ABCD is also hosting a winter gear drive where community members can donate gently used, clean winter gear. Although the collection begins around the holidays, collection and distribution will extend through March due to Boston’s long winter. 

Donations and volunteers are not limited to the holiday season; there are plenty of give-back opportunities year-round. This time of the year, however, is when people are the most in need and the opportunities are endless to get interested and involved in the community.

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