Thanksgiving is a busy time of year for food pantries, but this one will be especially so.
Due to the recent Nov. 1 nationwide cut in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, also known as food stamps, food pantries like Beverly Bootstraps and Haven from Hunger in Peabody are trying to gauge how much more they’ll need once the decrease goes into effect.
“We’re beginning to track our client’s response to this cut,” said Gus McDonald, food assistance supervisor at Beverly Bootstraps. “In the month of September we already had 18 new families, and in the month of October we had 36.”
As part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) that Congress passed in 2009, funding for the SNAP program and others was terminated, according to the Department of Transitional Assistance (DTA). States are unable to change the law, and 497,000 Massachusetts SNAP households will see a decrease in their food stamp benefits, says the DTA. Each reduction varies according to the number of people per household. A six-person household, for instance, will notice a cut of $53 per month, while a one person home will notice an $11 dollar decrease in their monthly benefits.
“We exist because food stamps exist,” said Alyse Barbash, executive director at Haven from Hunger. “If all of these food stamps are taken away over the next few years, then on a normal day, where I have 120 people lined up outside, I won’t be able to fill the need and my doors will close. Barbash said they need the food stamps, because her organization is just a supplement. “I can’t give enough food to a family of four or five for two weeks.”
McDonald feels these same burdens at Beverly Bootstraps. “We already have families of four and five staying on with us rather than tapering off like they usually do,” said McDonald. “They have new burdens, and we’ve become part of a family’s plan to get through the tough parts of the month.”
In September, Beverly Bootstraps served 479 households and 1,156 individuals. They distributed 1,989 bags, which equals about 79,560 pounds of food. Only a month later, those numbers rose to 512 family homes, 1,271 individuals, 736 new visitors—the highest number tracked from July to October—and 2,208 circulated bags. McDonald expects these numbers to grow in the coming months as clients adjust to the declining benefits.
“Families and individuals have not felt the whole impact of the cuts, but it is coming down the pike,” said McDonald. “We can only do what we can do and do it to the very best of our ability. We’ll strategize, forecast and evaluate our distribution model with renewed energy and effort to provide the best possible services standing in the gap of need for our clients.”
The good news is that though the number of clients increase, the number of turkeys is also rising. Beverly Bootstraps will provide 440 turkeys plus fixings for the holiday’s distribution. Haven from Hunger will serve a full holiday meal on Thanksgiving Day in addition to their regular Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday food pantry hours and hot dinners.
“At least I know people have a place to be. It’s like my other family,” said Barbash, who is expecting 50 to 80 people from Peabody, Salem, and Lynnfield on Thanksgiving Day for a holiday noontime meal. Henry’s Market in Beverly is providing the food.
Every month, 1,480 families walk through the doors of Haven from Hunger, and the majority are “working poor”—two full time parents who can’t make ends meet, Barbash said. As SNAP benefits decline and families on food stamps lose $36 a month, she believes more people will go to food pantries sooner, which means donations are needed earlier. Beverly Bootstraps and Haven from Hunger rely on donations to keep their shelves stocked, and soon there may be more needs.
While stocking bags and gathering turkeys, Barbash is also waiting to fulfill a three year goal: to purchase Haven from Hunger’s building and property, a space they have rented for 26 years. The SNAP cuts, however, may be a roadblock in this plan as client’s needs increase daily.
“The SNAP cuts have happened and they’re real,” said Heather Johnston, director of donor relations at Beverly Bootstraps. “But there is the potential for families and individuals to suffer even further if the farm bill is passed it is being proposed right now, and we won’t know this until January.”
Haven from Hunger, 71 Wallis St., Peabody
Food Pantry Program: 10:30am to 2:30pm Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday
Dinner Served: 5-6pm Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday
Thanksgiving and Christmas Day Meals: Noon on the day
Beverly Bootstraps, 371 Cabot St., BeverlyFood Pantry Program: Monday, Wednesday, Thursday & Friday from 11am to 12:30pm
Tuesday & Wednesday from 5:00pm-6:00pm
First and Third of the Month
This article is being published under an arrangement between the Boston Globe and the Gordon College News Service.
By Angie Sykeny, Gordon College News Service
After the hulking cooling towers at the mouth of the Taunton River emit their last puffs of coal exhaust, Somerset could become home to yet another rusting relic or, as environmental activists hope, the departure could set off redevelopment for Brayton Point.
Rep. Lori Ehrlich, a Marblehead Democrat who lives downwind of a soon-to-be-shuttered Salem coal plant, wants the few remaining coal plant operators to participate in planning for a re-use of the site. Under her proposed legislation all operators of power plants generating 75 megawatts or more of electricity would contribute to a Community Transitioning Fund.
The fund would be made available to towns such as Somerset that will see their tax bases shrink when the power plant leaves, and the bill would provide training for workers who lose their jobs when plants close.
Before entering politics, Ehrlich said, she led the charge to clean up six feet of coal waste in a drinking water aquifer that serves 80,000 people.
“Six years, $10 million, and they hauled all of the waste out of the drinking water,” Ehrlich said. “The local communities pay a very high price and nobody’s happier than me that we’re transitioning.”
Since she first filed the bill last session, Ehrlich said, two plants, including Salem, said they would shutter, and a third – which will be the last Bay State coal plant once Brayton Point and Salem close – has shown indications it plans to close.
“Since I’ve filed this there’s been several new realities, and one of those realities is that Brayton Point just announced its plans for closure. I think many people are in a new frame of mind,” Ehrlich said. She said there’s now an opportunity for “scaling up” renewable energy throughout the state.
On Tuesday morning, anti-coal activists gathered in the Great Hall in the State House in support of Ehrlich’s bill (H 2935).
Salem is due to close June 1, 2014, with a new natural gas plant set to take over the space. Former coal plants can leave behind expensive eyesores, but they can also provide a unique setting, as was the case with the Tate Modern art museum in London, housed in a former coal plant.
“The sky is the limit,” said Toxics Action Center Massachusetts State Director Claire Miller, who noted coal plant redevelopments in Austin and Toronto, the largely successful re-use of old mill buildings around the state, and Brayton Point’s scenic setting across the water from Fall River looking out on Mount Hope Bay.
Prospective casino developers KG Urban Enterprises want to redevelop the former Cannon Street Station, a large former coal plant on New Bedford’s waterfront. The plant converted to oil and natural gas likely in the 1950s and closed in 1992, according to NSTAR. The casino developers previously built Sands Bethlehem casino at the former site of Bethlehem Steel, in Pennsylvania.
Mount Tom, which is the state’s third remaining coal plant, has “delisted itself from the grid for 2016” meaning it wouldn’t be on call to fire up that year, Miller said. Ehrlich said that’s what Salem did before announcing its plans to close.
Another former coal plant along the Taunton River in Somerset was shuttered in 2010, and sits unused along the water.
Toxics Action Executive Director Sylvia Broude said the group surveyed about 350 Somerset residents, speaking to them at home or outside grocery stores, and found twice as many wanted to plan for a new future for the site rather than fight to keep the plant running.
Brayton Point plans to close by May 2017.
“Devastating,” was how Somerset resident Pauline Rodrigues summed up the economic impact of Brayton Point’s closure. She said, “We’re going to lose in the vicinity of $13 million per year within five years, and our town budget is approximately $50 million per year.”
Rodrigues said the other coal plant that closed in 2010 was “so obviously unhealthy” and said asthma is such a problem in the town that a baseball coach said “he wasn’t sure if he was there as a coach because he was in charge of so many inhalers.”
Toxic Action leaders said the transition assistance portion of the bill is the most important part, and said much of the responsibility for the future of Brayton Point will lie with the plant owner.
“They could be a bad neighbor, and just shut the door and padlock it and walk away,” which the former coal plant did, Miller said. She said she has not seen any studies about what a cleanup would cost, and a sale to a new owner would trigger the responsibility for a cleanup.
Broude said the plant’s recent owner Dominion Energy saw the plant as a “sinking ship” and that it had spent $1 billion to upgrade even as revenues plummeted 90 percent in the last few years. The new owner, EquiPower, bought Brayton “as a package” along with two more profitable plants in the Midwest, and Brayton was included “for the value of its scrap,” Miller said. She said Dominion didn’t want to operate in the Bay State’s deregulated energy market.
Broude said the Patrick administration has provided $100,000 each to Holyoke and Somerset to plan for the future use of the sites.
“We relied so heavily on this industry that made a lot of money for our town but also made us, our children and grandchildren sick. Now that Brayton Point has announced it will close, we must have support from outside of our borders to plan for the future of the sites,” Rodrigues said in a statement. Asked what she thought the realistic prospects are for redevelopment of the site, Rodrigues said, “We need the state help, but to say what the actual prospects are, I’m not sure.”
The Northeastern Conference voted 6-5 against expansion Friday, ending for the moment the attempts by four Greater Boston League schools and Masconomet to join the 11-team conference.
The motion was to add Medford, Malden, Somerville, and Everett, along with Masconomet, currently a member of the Cape Ann League. Needing eight votes to expand, principals and athletic directors met for two hours before voting.
"It was a healthy discussion," said Northeastern Conference spokesman and former Amesbury principal Les Murray. "In the end they just didn't see the need to expand."
Masconomet is in talks with the Merrimack Valley Conference about joining that 11-team conference. Cambridge is leaving the GBL to join the Dual County League, leaving the GBL as a four-team league.