Food insecurity: a troubling issue in Malden

Here are resources that can help

Bread of Life, food line for the evening meal at First Baptist Church, Malden, 11/18/2021 (photo by Keren He)

Here’s how to help

By Fern Remedi-Brown 

Photos and translation from Mandarin Chinese by Neighborhood View photographer Keren He

Bread of Life, serving the evening meal at First Baptist Church, Malden, 11/18/2021 (photo by Keren He)

Edgar (who asked that his real name be withheld) works as a security guard, and comes to the Bread of Life evening meal because he doesn’t have enough to eat, despite his regular job.  He has been coming to the evening meal for the past 20 years. 

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic struck, food insecurity in Malden was an issue, as evidenced by those seeking Bread of Life services. Many people who work are unable to feed themselves and their families; others are homeless. A recent line at BOL included single parents with their children and several public school students, picking up a meal to bring home.  

The U.S. Department of Agriculture defines food insecurity as a lack of consistent access to enough food for an active, healthy life. Although hunger and food insecurity are closely related, “hunger” refers to a personal, physical sensation of discomfort, while “food insecurity” refers to a lack of available financial resources for food at the household level. To address food insecurity, Malden supports a variety of services, including evening meals, food pantries, and groceries deliveries.  (See below for a list of resources and volunteer opportunities.) 

 “Many people don’t know about resources.  There are barriers, such as language and transportation,” said Gabriella Snyder Stelmack, BOL Executive Director. 

Bread of Life Food Pantry, preparing bags at 109 Madison St., Malden, 11/19/2021 (photo by Keren He)

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated both food insecurity due to high unemployment and the limited availability of food sources (including supply chain and transportation restrictions).  WCVB Channel 5 News reported on Nov. 14 that the “Greater Boston Food Bank faces supply chain issues ahead of Thanksgiving.” Although two parents may both be working, their hours may have been cut and costs are going up for food, gas, and heat. 

Food insecurity has also been “compounded by the opioid crisis and lack of services for treatment and plans, for how to really help people who have addictions,” Snyder Stelmack said. This is evident in the number of people served this year and in 2020, compared with previous years, she said. 

“Our volunteers never stopped during COVID, even when everything closed on March 13, 2000,” Snyder Stelmack said. “We pivoted. In fact, we served three to four times the number of people. Before COVID, we served 8,400 unduplicated people.  In 2020, we served 25,000. The staff and volunteers are amazing. I almost cry to think about it.”

COVID-19 has also affected other aspects of food distribution for those in need. For example, in-person meals were halted and the number of volunteers was also reduced. Other aspects have been affected, as well. 

Line of patrons at the Malden YMCA Free Food Market, 11/17/2021 (photo by Keren He)

Li Liu Jiao, age 70, has been using the Malden YMCA Free Food Market for the past six months.  Because of COVID-19, her family is afraid to go to the grocery store. The Free Food Market is a lifesaver for them. 

In her native Fujian, China, Li was a farmer in a village. She grows a few vegetables at home, but she says her family and friends would appreciate City cost-subsidized plots in The Malden Community Garden.  They “all want to grow something,”  she said. 

Jennifer Spadafora, Ward 3 School Committee Representative, stocks Beebe fridge, November 19, 2021

Li said the language barrier prevents her and others from knowing about community resources for food, such as the community fridges along the Northern Strand Community Trail. These fridges were set up by the City and are periodically stocked by community members.

Many of those who get a hot meal from BOL say that the food bank is key.  In collaboration with other partners, BOL provides blankets, clothing and winter weather gear and helps to connect residents and homeless individuals to counseling, furniture, housing, and financial assistance services.  According to its website,  BOL provides every year the equivalent of over 1 million meals – 1.5 million pounds of food – to hungry, homeless, and isolated people.” 

Bread of Life Food Pantry, Rochelle Bluefort, 109 Madison St. Warehouse, Malden, 11/19/2021 (photo by Keren He)

The dedicated employees and volunteers of Bread of Life and the YMCA Free Food Market are motivated by the belief that everyone is valuable and deserves to have a decent meal. Pumla Bunghane, a BOL employee of six years, said that his love for the people and getting to know them keeps him going. 

The organizations also welcome additional volunteers.  (See resources for volunteers below.)

HealthEdge volunteers at Bread of Life’s Food Pantry

On Nov. 19 seven Quality Assurance Software Engineers from HealthEdge volunteered at Bread of Life’s Food Pantry; they unloaded trucks, organized food, and served patrons.  According to employee Nancy Doherty, “HealthEdge is a company good to its people that allows for each employee to volunteer anywhere, two days a year, during company hours, donating time to people in need.”

“This year, our team decided to volunteer as a group.  If this humbling experience can stay with each of us and spread to others, the message becomes clear. ‘The hand that gives is also the one that receives,’” said Doherty, referencing a Persian Proverb.

Entrance to the Malden Warming Center

Each organization uses different terminology:  Bread of Life calls those who use its service, “patrons.”  The Malden Warming Center calls those who come in need “guests.” Pastor Gerry Whetstone, Director of the Warming Center says, “though the Center is a collaborative effort of people of all faiths and those who do not practice a faith, the approach of the center is based upon the Christian and the Jewish understanding of practicing hospitality.” Malden Neighbors Helping Neighbors uses the term “Neighbors.”

Food insecurity is also very much in the forefront of the minds of the city’s elected officials – it is a common cause for them all. At a Nov. 9 City Council meeting, members of the Core Leadership Team of the Community Food Assessment, including Renée Cammarata Hamilton and Kathleen O’Brien of Cambridge Health Alliance (CHA), Chris Murphy and Kris Glynn of the Malden YWCA, and Marcia Manong of Bread of Life, presented the Malden Community Food Assessment (pdf at link below), which was conducted during the COVID-19 pandemic. Councilors unanimously agreed to the first “ask” of the Tri-City Hunger Network – that of accepting the report. The next step is to propose a Food Policy Council with City Council. This proposal will be brought before the Council in January. 

One of the four areas of focus in the community food assessment is “food recovery + waste diversion.”  Debbie Amaral, CEO of the Malden YMCA uses Food Link, which aims to rescue surplus fresh food that would otherwise be wasted and deliver it to community organizations serving people in need throughout Eastern Massachusetts. The YMCA also directly picks up rescued food from Target, Wegmans, and Aldi’s. 

In interviews with seven community leaders, all of them mentioned the deep connection between housing and food insecurity. “The whole housing issue is the main impact on Food Insecurity. Affordable housing is the number one front and center need, unabated,” Snyder Stelmack said.

Chris Murphy, Mass in Motion! Coordinator at the Malden YWCA and co-initiator of the Malden Community Food Assessment Plan said, “Food insecurity is deeply dependent on insecure housing.” Paula Spizziri of Malden Neighbors Helping Neighbors spoke of how helpful Malden Housing Families had been regarding housing issues.

In February 2021, Housing Families, Inc. opened a shelter for homeless individuals at the OYO Hotel in Malden, the result of close collaboration between the City of Malden, and many community organizations, including the Warming Center and Bread of Life.  The 22-bed shelter will give priority to Malden residents. 

To provide further support, the Bread of Life “Under One Roof” capital campaign is designed to develop 54 Eastern Ave. to include a kitchen, dining hall, superette market, and 15 individual housing units in one facility.  Bread of Life completed its capital campaign and moved forward this year.

The Malden Warming Center, Thanksgiving Meal 2017. Photo credit Amy Reynolds

Those interviewed spoke about how the need for assistance should not be seen as shameful, and they discussed ways that need has increased. Need can happen quickly, as a chain of events –  loss of job, inability to pay rent, and other factors, they said.  All spoke of caring for those in need without judgment. According to Whetstone, the mission statement of the Malden Warming Center is to “look at each person with their inherent dignity, and approach them as a person.”

Amanda Linehan, Ward 3 City Councilor (current and elect)

Ward 3 City Councilor Amanda Linehan concurs: “The humanity is so key.”  Linehan shared her story of growing up food insecure. “Going through lean times as a young child, we struggled.”  This gives her compassion and the perspective of understanding her constituents. She said, “For me, coming in as a new councilor last year, food insecurity became the top issue because so many people were unemployed.”   

She added, “That chips away at a person’s sense of humanity.”  

Linehan spoke about how sometimes people don’t “make it outwardly apparent what’s going on” in terms of food insecurity. She said that the Community Food Assessment presented to City Council highlights vulnerabilities and further action is important to address needs.

Snyder Stelmack spoke of the changing face of need for food services. The 1980s saw a “big pushback against affordable housing as urban centers got rid of ‘blighted areas’” and the 1990s had a “tremendous economic boon, not conducive to low-income people.”  In Malden, “pantry patrons have changed a lot; previously there were many veterans from the Gulf Wars,” and now the “people using the Food Pantry are much more diverse.  “Over 80% of patrons now identify as non-white,” she said. 

Julie Mangan of Malden Community Garden, which worked intensively to assess needs at the Bread of Life, said that “65% of the people that BOL serves are Asian.”  In addition, Snyder Stelmack added there are many Caribbean families, especially Haitians, Arabic-speaking patrons, and those from Central and South America.  BOL employs interpreters in multiple languages – and has a grant-funded food access coordinator who speaks Cantonese and Mandarin. 

School lunch image from Malden Public Schools (from Project Bread)

Another key indicator of food insecurity is school lunch eligibility. Malden Public School students are now eligible for free meals without having to prove eligibility, thereby removing the stigma and increasing participation.  Katrina Bressani, Director of School Nutrition for the City, provided data:  In July and August 2021, both breakfasts and lunches were served – an average of nearly 400 breakfasts and over 850 lunches per day, in July alone. The numbers jumped significantly when the school year began, with nearly 1,500 breakfasts and over 3,500 lunches served on average, per day, last month. 

School lunches, Malden Public Schools, Oct. 2021, Data compiled by Katrina Bressani, Director of School Nutrition, City of Malden

Within the entire district, in October 2021, nearly 3,500 of the total nearly 6,300 students in Malden (56%) were eligible for free lunches and nearly 400 students (6%) were eligible for reduced lunches.  That indicates 62% of Malden Public School students are food insecure.  The total number of lunches served last month (20 days) was over 71,000, so that means that, on average, in October 2021, 3,550 of the 6,300 students in Malden (56%) got free lunches every day. 

In response to the increased need during COVID-19, the mutual aid society, Malden Neighbors Helping Neighbors, was created in 2020.  Thus far, it has reached 830 ‘neighbors,’ including those served and volunteers.  According to volunteer Paula Spizziri, the group worked with the YMCA Free Food Market and Bread of Life to assist with deliveries, and the Malden Senior Center , Wah Lum Kung Fu & Tai Chi Academy – 華林功夫太極舘First Parish Church and First Baptist Church, stored dried goods and supplies prior to delivering to neighbors (monthly).  

Malden Neighbors Helping Neighbors Facebook profile picture

As people return to in-person work, the number of MNHN volunteers – e.g., drivers – have been reduced, posing challenges for deliveries to food-insecure people. State Rep. Steve Ultrino’s office has helped people to sign up for unemployment insurance, and Action for Boston Community Development (ABCD) has helped residents get benefits such as fuel assistance, according to Spizziri.

Many of the agencies in Malden are working together to help with food insecurity. Malden Neighbors Helping Neighbors works with the Malden YMCA Free Food Market, making deliveries of food and cleaning supplies to those in need.  The Malden YWCA teens help seniors carry their groceries from the Malden YMCA Free Food Market.  In addition, the Malden YWCA is the fiscal agent for Malden Community Garden’s grant funding.

Lindsay Smythe, volunteer coordinator for Malden YMCA Free Food Market, 11/17/2021 (photo by Keren He)

Each organization has changed according to the needs of the community.  Amaral said that the YMCA Market started in summer 2017, bringing bags to those in need at one housing complex.  During 2019, the market distributed 153,000 meals.  In 2020, it provided food to over 7,000 households a month at three locations with up to 250 deliveries per week. This year the YMCA picked up 45,000 lbs. of food per week – over 2.5 million lbs. per year – providing over 2 million meals to food-insecure families in Malden and surrounding communities.

The Farm at the Malden Community Garden (logo)

The mission of The Farm at the Malden Community Garden is to reduce food insecurity for residents in the City of Malden and surrounding areas by growing and distributing fresh culturally appropriate produce for neighbors in need.  During the growing season, The Farm at Malden Community Garden supplied BOL with 588 pounds of produce, with culturally appropriate vegetables of residents’ home countries, including five types of leafy greens, zucchini, varieties of tomatoes, okra, sweet potatoes, and red noodle beans.  Volunteers come from community groups, including the Malden Teen Enrichment Center (MTEC) and the Malden YWCA. 

Some of The Farm at The Malden Community Garden’s big harvests with The Farm’s sign
Harvesting sweet potatoes at The Farm

In 2020, because of COVID-19, the Community Garden could not continue to offer workshops in seeding, native plants, cooking, and yoga, so the organization used some of its grant money to create The Farm.  One of the key characteristics of the community garden is that everyone has a voice in making decisions.  “The garden thrives because of the gardeners who volunteer their time and talents to keep it going,” said Mangan.  She would love to have some of the patrons of Bread of Life come to The Farm to grow vegetables.  “That would be a success story.”  

Young ones at The Farm
Snack & Share Garden Plot, Pick and Leave Some for Others, Photo by Karen Colón Hayes, October 3, 2021

All seven of the community leaders, as well as many of the patrons interviewed, said that the need for food has not been reduced, despite efforts against the pandemic. Below are resources that food-insecure people can access, as well as opportunities to volunteer.

RESOURCES TO ADDRESS FOOD INSECURITY IN MALDEN

Community Food Offerings calendar for Nov. 23 – Dec. 6, 2021, compiled by Fern Remedi-Brown through research and interviews with organizations and stakeholders, Nov. 3-19, 2021

Thanksgiving Meals

  • Thursday, November 25th Thanksgiving Dinner through Bread of Life at Malden High School, 77 Salem Street (12:00 – 2:00 p.m.)  Donations of roasted turkeys and prepared mashed potatoes are being sought. They are looking for 900 meals. Please deliver on Wednesday, November 24th, 4:00 – 7:00 p.m. to the Malden High School cafeteria, rear entrance off of Ferry Street. Roasted turkey is the main item on the menu. They want everyone to be able to enjoy a Thanksgiving meal. (“Don’t be alone on Thanksgiving Day.”)  This event has the support of the Mayor’s office, the Board of Health, and the School Department, and Mystic Valley Elder Services (MVES).  Up to 500 meals will be delivered to MVES consumers and other senior citizens unable to leave their homes.
Bread of Life Hours (English and simplified Chinese) for Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s 2021
  • Thursday, Nov. 25  Thanksgiving Dinner at Malden First Church of the Nazarene, 529 Eastern Ave., the location of The Warming Center (noon – 4  p.m.)  Call 781-324-4230 or go to http://maldennazarene.com/(The church has been offering a Thanksgiving Day meal for people who might not have a place to go, for the past 12 years. Families, larger groups sit around tables.)
Banners for both The Warming Center and Thanksgiving Dinner

Malden Food Pantries

  • Bread of Life, Wednesdays 4 -6 p.m. and Fridays 2-3 p.m., 109 Madison (new location).  Volunteers can come for the whole time or just a couple hours. Details at this link.
  • Malden YMCA Free Food Market, Monday-Friday 11:00am-1:00pm (CLOSED Thanksgiving week) and Saturdays 10:00am-12:00pm, 99 Dartmouth Street. Registration is easy, either online or onsite.  No i.d. or proof of citizenship is required.  Diaper donations and unopened, unexpired baby formula are especially welcome.  Anyone wishing to volunteer can register online here. Volunteer groups can coordinate with Lindsay at LSmythe@ymcamalden.org. Anyone, regardless of residency, can also get food from Everett and Medford YMCAs
  • Philadelphie Seventh-day Adventist Church has a food pantry on the first Sunday of each month, from 8:00 until 12:00 and every Wednesday afternoon for those who call.  575 Main St., Malden
    781-397-9143 
  • Malden Community Fridge (4): The Malden Community Fridge is a community-run initiative that helps to provide free food to the local community 24/7, 365 days a week.  This was originally set up by the City.  Community members take the food they need or donate food when they notice the fridge is running low on items.  Anyone can donate fresh items to the fridge (see rules on Facebook page, )  Also stocked by Katsiroubas Produce. Anyone wishing to donate to Katsiroubas: https://promotions.lpage.co/campaigns/2601098
    • Linden Square Municipal Lot,
    • Faulkner Street across from the community garden, and 
    • Canal Street across from the Cambridge Health Alliance office along the Northern Strand Community Trail
    • Beebe School on Rte. 60 (Pleasant St.), corner of Highland Ave. (where statue is located)
  • Malden YWCA, occasional food baskets for teen girls and their families, 54 Washington Street

Malden Community Meals (other than at Thanksgiving)

  • Bread of Life evening meal, open to everyone, First Baptist Church, corner of Main and Salem Streets, Tues.-Fri. 5:30-6:30 p.m. Anyone (or group) wishing to volunteer, contact Maria Tito, meal coordinator, 781-548-9848.
  • Mystic Valley Elder Services Senior Dining, lunch, Malden Senior Center, 7 Washington Street.  $2.00 donation suggested, but no one is turned away for lack of funds. Call 781-397-7144 for information.  Chinese meals on Wednesdays and Thursdays.
  • The Malden Warming Center evening meal and breakfast and a bagged lunch (open 24/7), Nazarene Church, 529 Eastern Ave., opens December 1, 2021 and closes for the season on March 31, 2022, hours are   7:00 p.m. –7:45 a.m. Anyone wishing to volunteer, there is a training session on Wednesday, Nov. 24, 7 – 9 p.m. on Zoom; sign up at https://bit.ly/308PkYM. See https://www.facebook.com/MaldenWarmth
Volunteer training at the Warming Center, next session November 24, 2021

Malden Groceries and Meal Deliveries

Malden area Mobile Markets

  • MelroseWakefield Hospital mobile food market in Malden, across the street from Piantedosi Baking Co. on Commercial Street, 2nd Saturday, 1 – 2  p.m. fresh produce, dairy products and other healthy food items are distributed. Pre-registration is required. Call  781-338-7568. This program is offered by North Suburban WIC Program/MelroseWakefield Healthcare, in partnership with the Greater Boston Food Bank and the Malden Zonta Club.
  • Cambridge Health Alliance mobile market in Revere, 1st Saturday of the month, 10:30-11:30 a.m.  No eligibility requirements, 454 Broadway (back parking lot), Revere, MA 02151
  • Everett Mobile Market Grab N’ Go Free Food Distribution is open to anyone, without residency requirements, in car or on foot, Thursdays, 3 – 5  p.m., at Lafayette School, 117 Edith Street, off Bryant Street, Everett (just up the street from Lincoln Commons Playground), sponsored by Bread of Life and the City of Everett, for information, Phone: 781-397-0404, Email: info@breadoflifemalden.org.  Volunteers welcomed, especially those who speak Brazilian Portuguese, Haitian Creole and Spanish.

School Food Truck. Initiated during the pandemic by the Malden Board of Health, this will help provide Malden students with access to free snacks in the afternoons and evenings, by traveling throughout the city and bringing food to neighborhoods. 

Women, Infants and Children (WIC)

Bread of Life Everett Backpack Nutrition Program: String backpacks filled with food are distributed on a monthly basis to Everett students who are experiencing food insecurity. 

Suppliers

If you have additional questions, you can contact the Project Bread Food Source Hotline at: 800-645-8333 or online at: https://www.projectbread.org/get-help, which has multilingual assistance and helps people sign up for SNAP benefits. 

Cambridge Health Alliance (CHA) also has a social needs search engine that is available to all called CHA-connect.org. You can search for food security by your zip code and a list of places will pop up. 

Thanks to Renée Cammarata Hamilton MSW, MPA | Director, Health Improvement Team & Clinical Instructor, Community Health Improvement Department, Cambridge Health Alliance (CHA), and to Gabriella Snyder Stelmack (Bread of Life), Debbie Amaral (YMCA), Chris Murphy and Kris Glynn (YWCA), Pastor Gerry Whetstone (Warming Center), Paula Spizziri (Malden Neighbors Helping Neighbors), Amanda Linehan (Ward 3 City Councilor), Julie Mangan (The Farm), Katrina Bressani (School Nutrition for the City), and Neil Sullivan (Cornucopia) for this information. Thank you to the tireless employees and volunteers who continue to serve the hungry, and who were willing to take time out to be interviewed and photographed. Thank you to Keren He for photography and Mandarin Chinese translation.

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