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Grant helps Food Pantry expand offerings

Date: 5/16/2012

May 16, 2012

By Debbie Gardner

WESTFIELD — The Westfield Food Pantry is expanding the services it can offer to clients, thanks to a grant from the United Way of Pioneer Valley.

Director Rebecca Hart said the pantry recently acquired office space at 101 Meadow St, adjacent to its emergency food operation, currently located at 95 Meadow St.

Thanks to the expansion, Hart said pantry staff is now able to offer clients on-site assistance with applications for state-sponsored services such as MassHealth, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), also known as food stamps, the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women Infants and Children (WIC), and some veterans services.

"It's exciting for us," she said. "At a time when a lot of places are trying to maintain the status quo, we are expanding our services [and] our services are all free."

Individuals interested in having pantry staff assist them with the aid application process for state-sponsored programs should call 572-0802 or email to set up an appointment.

"We have daytime, evening and weekend hours available as needed," Hart added.

Prior to the pantry offering application assistance, she said individuals had to travel to Springfield or Holyoke to obtain state services.

"We saw a tremendous need in the community, as we are on the front lines and we have an intake form (for needs assessment)," Hart said. "We saw a lot of people who had not applied."

She said issues such as transportation to Springfield or Holyoke, and the long wait times to apply for services once an individual arrived at a location, were cited by many clients as barriers to seeking aid.

The United Way grant, which Hart said will provide $10,000 of funding over an 18-month period, allowed the pantry to bring the services closer to home.

"We began offering these services at the beginning of the month and they have been well-received," she said. Of the 12 individuals who recently applied through the pantry office, five have been accepted for aid. Hart added the Pantry has referred individuals not accepted to Springfield-based Community Legal Aid, which is assisting them with the appeal process.

Hart noted that, unlike state services, which have income and other restrictions, the pantry's original program, the Food Bag, is open to anyone in need, as long as they are a resident of Westfield.

"We do not base our decision [to provide food assistance] on income," Hart said. "We see a lot of older folks where their adult children are moving back home."

The Food Bag program allows individuals to visit the pantry once a month for staples, and once a week for items such as bread, desserts and seasonal fresh produce. The pantry is open Mondays, Tuesdays and Fridays from 10 a.m. to noon, Thursday evenings from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. and the first Saturday of every month from 10 a.m. to noon.

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