Food Distribution Pop-ups, Pantries Struggle to Find Enough Food for Residents

It was the second day of the pop-up food distribution site last Friday, April 17, in the parking lot of City Hall.

Where many residents had once come to pay parking tickets, renew their resident stickers or attend a City Council meeting, they were now lining up to see if they could find food for their families so they wouldn’t go hungry. So pronounced is the food shortages and losses of wages in Chelsea that there is a great deal of worry that residents aren’t eating, children aren’t eating, and the basics of life in America aren’t being met.

Photos by Seth Daniel
City officials are struggling to help feed residents as the food shortage has become
enormous in Chelsea. Last Friday, the second day of the new pop-up food distribution, people began lining up at 8:30 a.m. for an 11 a.m. start. By 1:30 p.m. the line was still long and they had run out of food. City officials said they are ratcheting up operations to have more food available over the next two weeks. Here, DPW worker Hector Ortiz breaks down boxes of spaghetti sauce to provide in food boxes. Next, a resident puts a box of sauce on his shoulder, with mask in place, and heads home with some, but not all, of the food hoped for.

At City Hall on Friday, people began lining up at 8:30 a.m. for a distribution that started at 11 a.m. – risking their lives being outside around so many people in one of the hardest hit COVID-19 cities in the state. They wrapped around City Hall and far out into Fay Square.

The distribution went at a fast pace, with DPW workers and Chelsea Police, with some volunteers, handing out large cans of spaghetti sauce, soda pop, bottled water, bread, pasta, pears and other staples.

The distribution was to only last until 1 p.m., but by that time there were still more than 50 people still in line – young people, mothers, fathers, children and older folks too.

“That’s it folks,” said a police officer over the loud speaker. “No more food. We have cans of spaghetti sauce if you want that. We’re all out.”

Faces of disbelief were on the crowd.

Some seemed as though they might cry. Slowly, the 50 to 80 people still in line accepted the fate, and were assured there would be another distribution soon.

“We’re tired; we’ve had a long day,” said Jan Martinez of the DPW. “None of that matters. We’re doing this for our city. People need this.”

City Manager Tom Ambrosino said the City and the National Guard and all of their partners have a singular focus on trying to feed people right now. He said his heart went out to everyone coming to the pop-ups and waiting for hours.

“If you’re coming in here for three hours for food, you’re hungry and you have a need,” he said. “We’re going to try to provide everyone with enough food to eat…People don’t realize what great need there is out there for food. It’s enormous.”

The food effort has been complex as the City, with the help of the National Guard and volunteers, has tried to gather 45,000 pounds of food from the Greater Boston Food Bank each day and try to organize those food stuffs into boxes for people – boxes meant to feed two or three people for seven days.

The effort includes delivering the food from the Food Bank to the PORT Park, where they are trying to ratchet up their operations for pop-ups, food pantries and home deliveries.

“We have to acquire the food supply, which isn’t easy and then transport that supply to the PORT Park,” he said. “The National Guard is helping, but we had contract with companies to get it here too. When it gets here, it isn’t packaged. We have to break it down and gather it into individual boxes that feed two or three people for seven days. It took a lot of manpower. We don’t just get boxes full of food. We have to break it down and then get it out to the locations, which the National Guard is really helping us on.”

He said another aspect of the situation is getting food delivered to homes where people are sick and/or in quarantine. That, he said would prevent them from going out and trying to work or get food. “We have 900 people in isolation for COVID-19,” he said. “Not all of them need food deliveries. Some have resources or have family members that help, but not all of them. We’re trying to deliver 500 boxes to them per day with the help of the National Guard.”

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