At least 12.5% of Western Massachusetts residents are living below the poverty line, and that number is growing.
With increased demand for emergency food from a growing community, the staff and Volunteers at the Easthampton Community Center are not short of things to do. But that didn’t stop Executive Director Robin Bialecki, who saw a growing need in her community and the clients that ECC’s food pantry serves. “Over the last year we have seen an upsurge of people needing gluten free foods. Upon speaking to several nutritionists and doctors in the area, I discovered that for many low income families it is impossible to get all of the foods needed for their family,” Bialecki said.
The ECC Gluten-Free pantry opened officially on March 4th, and it is the first and only gluten-free pantry in Western Mass., a fact not lost on Bialecki. “We have opened the gluten free pantry to all of Western Mass. that we can reach. We currently have clients from Easthampton, Southampton, Westfield, Chicopee, Holyoke, Amherst, and Springfield,” she said. The gluten-free pantry serves 40 clients who are allowed to come on an as needed weekly or monthly basis.
Bialecki says the biggest challenge has been keeping up with the higher cost of the gluten-free product. “The more people we reach the greater the need will be to purchase more food, and even at a wholesale price the food is expensive.” “A few of the [gluten-free] companies I am working with in Colorado and Ohio are asking other companies to help out and make donations whenever possible as well. The Gluten Free companies are very serious about helping those in need and have been very supportive,” she added.
In the just over 3 weeks since its opening the pantry has been featured on 22News WWLP, the Daily Hampshire Gazette, and WFCR. “Area medical offices are excited and have been sending clients to us for help,” Bialecki said.
If you would like to learn more about the ECC gluten-free pantry visit them on Facebook, or call 413-527-5240.
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