Spotlight on Gethsemane Pantry

Marsha Ivey, third from left, with several of her volunteers before starting service at their pantry in January.

Gethsemane Church of Jesus in Springfield looks like a small, ordinary house from the outside, but once a month, they make a huge difference for the people they serve.

During a visit in January, Program Director of Gethsemane’s pantry, Marsha Ivey, talked about the need for healthy food access in the area.

“On a cold day like today, you know, you don’t want to come out, but there are people lined up in the cold, waiting.”

“I don’t think anybody should be hungry,” she adds, “but especially older people and children. That’s something that really touches me, that’s something that I want to do to help people.”

A lot has changed since that visit last winter, and not just the weather. COVID-19 has brought new challenges to our neighborhoods and the institutions, like Gethsemane, that support them. During a follow-up conversation on the subject, Ivey talked about how they’re adjusting.

“We have seen an increase in the number of new persons and also persons who have not been to our program in quite some time,” says Ivey. “As more people become unemployed, we see more people having no choice but to turn to pantries for extra help.”

Now that millions of people nationwide find themselves unexpectedly unemployed and unsure where their next meal will come from due to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, Ivey’s mission is more important than ever. In Springfield, the unemployment rate went from 5 percent in March, to 20 percent in April. The pandemic has hit communities of color particularly hard, especially in neighborhoods whose residents may have already been at risk of food insecurity. But Gethsemane has been able to adapt and meet increases in need, despite their small facilities.

As one of The Food Bank’s 176 members Gethsemane has been working closely with our agency relations team on safety guidance and ways to handle capacity increases. This includes funding, access to additional food, and weekly calls to share information about state and federal initiatives to address the economic and public health impact of the Coronavirus pandemic.

Gethsemane’s pantry shelving, made possible in part by a capacity grant from The Food Bank in 2018.

Gethsemane received a capacity grant from The Food Bank in 2018 that helped them pay for new shelving in their pantry. The grant provided the pantry with the opportunity to store more food and keep organized in their small space. Simple things like shelving go a long way in strengthening their operations, but without a little help from grants, small members like Gethsemane might not be able to absorb the cost. To help members keep up with increased food distribution demands during the coronavirus pandemic, The Food Bank has issued supplementary grants.

“With the additional grants [from The Food Bank] issued we are in a much better position to be better able to serve as many as we can,” said Ivey.

Projections from a new Feeding America study indicate that overall, one in seven people in the Commonwealth is experiencing food insecurity due to the pandemic. For children that number is even higher, projected at one in every five persons under the age of eighteen. These are significant increases over previous statistics, representing tens of thousands of people who are newly food insecure. Here in western Massachusetts, there has been an increase of over 60 percent due to COVID-19, making the state the second highest pandemic related increase in childhood food insecurity nationwide.

For individuals and families experiencing this increased food insecurity, many for the first time, stress and concern about how they will put healthy food on their tables during the pandemic runs high. Having caring volunteers and staff —like those at Gethsemane — to greet and serve them is key.

One visitor to the Gethsemane pantry described it as special and different from other pantries.

“Everyone here is trustworthy and good, it means a lot that they’re here,” said the client.