City Extends Pop-Up Food Pantries to Sept. 26 as Food Debit Card Launches

City Manager Tom Ambrosino said they have some 3,300 applications for the Chelsea Eats emergency food debit card and only 2,000 spaces available, but that the most needy are expected to get the card while others will have to rely on existing food pantries that continue to operate throughout the city.

A lottery to select the winners of the debit card will take place on Thursday, Sept. 17, and likewise, the City has extended its pop-up food pantry program also until Sept. 25. Ambrosino said with the large number of applicants, they have weighted the applications and those in greatest need will get the cards first instead of just the luck of the draw.

“We do expect the people with the most need will prevail in the lottery – families with children and elderly residents,” he said. “It will be those that applied and are in the most need.”

Preference in the lottery for Chelsea Eats will be given to families with children, disabled residents, veterans, seniors 65+, households who are ineligible for other forms of government assistance, and the most economically disadvantaged residents. The City will hold this lottery on Thursday, September 17, at 5 p.m., available for viewing at The City mailed all applicant’s lottery numbers by mail last week. Residents who did not receive the letter can reach 311 to know their applicant number. 

Once the lottery is concluded, the City will provide selected applicants with information on how to obtain the food debit card. The Food Debit Card Program is expected to last for at least two months and perhaps as much as four months, depending on funding.  Debit cards will include a minimum of $200 per month and a maximum of $400 per month, depending on family size.

Ambrosino said they would likely see an increase in the numbers of people who use the existing food pantries not run by the City – including the Salvation Army, St. Luke’s, La Luz, and the Chelsea Collaborative. So, they will start subsidizing them as well, but they cannot keep their own pantries operating indefinitely.

“We will support the existing pantries operating in the community because we do expect to see an increased number of people,” he said. “So we will provide support to local food pantries at least until the end of the year…There will continue to be existing food pantries in the City and we expect they will see more activity and we will help them. We just can’t operate our pantries indefinitely.”

He said he hopes to have the debit cards in the hands of residents chosen in the lottery by the first week of October.

Simultaneously, the Chelsea Eats program will conduct a study between September and January 2021 to measure the impact of this program. This study will consist of a brief monthly online survey asking about a family’s well-being during the COVID-19 epidemic.  All survey answers are anonymous and confidential, and those who participate in the survey will receive a $20 gift card after the completion of each survey. Participation in the study is entirely voluntary, and you may withdraw from the study at any time. The decision to participate in this study will not affect the eligibility for the Chelsea Eats program, and it will not give any additional preference in the lottery. 

Until Sept. 25, pop-up pantries will take place 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at:

•Mondays, Quigley Park, 25 Essex St.

•Tuesdays, Bellingham Hill Park, 115 Bellingham St.

•Wednesdays, Washington Park.

•Thursdays, Chelsea Square, 2nd Street.

•Fridays, Mary C. Burke Complex, 300 Crescent Ave.

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