Ipswich Y drive spotlights hunger during summer months

Apr. 24—IPSWICH — Even as life slowly returns to normal for many, COVID-19 is still creating challenges for families coping with hunger, the director of the Ipswich Family YMCA said.

After speaking with the operators of two area food pantries, YMCA director Chris Bevilacqua said he saw an opportunity to help — both with the ongoing needs of Cape Ann and North Shore residents and with raising awareness of food insecurity at a time of year when it's not on people's minds.

A group of community organizations including the Y, the Ipswich Business Round Table, The Open Door and Acord food pantries, the Three Sisters Garden Project and The Green Team are co-sponsoring a monthlong event called "Neighbors to Tables" starting May 1.

"There is a continuing need for those people who needed assistance prior to the pandemic," said Bevilacqua. But there is still a need for help as well from people who lost jobs, suffered a loss of income, or face other hardships as a result of the pandemic.

One effort is a program where customers at local businesses can make a $10 donation, which will fund a grocery, farm stand or other food gift card for a family in need — and give the donor a discount at 20 Ipswich area businesses and institutions.

The list of participating businesses includes the Ipswich Museum, AnnTiques, Luxa, Nostos Boutique, the Cellar Door, Salon Bogart, the Heart and Soul Cafe, the Little River Store, The Brown Dog, Betsy Frost Design, Scott Networks, Forget Me Not, Zumi's, Nails Etc. Day Spa, D.J.'s Variety, Hair Crafters, Ipswich Hearts and Flowers, Jetties Bagels, Cape Ann Botanicals and Marcorelle's Fine Wine and Beer.

There will also be a "Cereal Drive" from May 10 to May 14 at all of the Ipswich public schools, Triton Regional Middle and High Schools and the Manchester-Essex Regional School district.

The drive was organized by the Y Teen Board and the Green Team, a group of high school students in Ipswich, who will set up collection boxes in the lobby of each school.

Bevilacqua said the past year has brought demand for food assistance from people who never previously needed help putting meals on the table.

One thing he also learned in speaking to food pantries is that while the shelves are usually fully stocked during the holidays, those supplies can dwindle in the spring and summer months.

The need becomes more pressing when taking into account the fact that children who were eligible for meals in school won't have access during the summer.

The cereal drive is one way to make sure children have a breakfast.

He also said the gift cards are a way of both de-stigmatizing food assistance for people in need as well as a way to introduce them to local alternatives, such as the Three Sisters Garden project and other local farmstands.

The final piece of their project is creating a one-page handout that will list all of the available food options for families and individuals.

Bevilacqua said he's learned of people in need who may not know where to turn for help.

In 2020, The Open Door distributed 378,830 pounds of food to nearly 1,000 area residents 645 families.

Courts reporter Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, by email at jmanganis@salemnews.com or on Twitter at @SNJulieManganis.