The People’s Pantry: 25 Years of Nourishing the Community

A New Endowment with Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation Ensures their Future Ability to Combat Food Insecurity

By Deirdre McKenna / November 29, 2023

2024 will mark the 25th year that The People’s Pantry in Great Barrington has remained steadfast in fulfilling its mission to provide healthy, locally-sourced food to any resident in need. Though the mission is straightforward, the organization has learned to be endlessly creative and resourceful in finding ways to continue providing food to our community. The pantry staff, volunteers (60+), and board, along with a network of local nonprofit agencies, supermarkets, grantmakers and food banks make this work possible.

Reimagined Operations Created a Roadmap for Resilience

The COVID-19 pandemic deeply underscored the need for the pantry to prepare for unforeseen crises, and the lessons of the past three years informed their decision to establish an endowed fund with Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation in 2023. This fund will secure and sustain the pantry’s ability to provide food to our community in perpetuity. BTCF’s stewardship of this fund will allow the pantry to benefit from our investment expertise and have a guaranteed annual income, providing stability and the ability to plan long-term. It also frees up valuable time to focus on what they do best: source and distribute food.

Pre-pandemic, they served 125 people per week. That number soared to 300 in March of 2020. The pantry pivoted quickly to reimagine their operations so they could support increasing numbers of people at an accelerated pace. They forged new partnerships to redirect surplus food. Berkshire Grown connected farmers, who had lost their restaurant markets, directly to the pantry. Regional restaurants, schools and supermarkets provided surplus food. The Food Bank of Western MA continued to be an instrumental partner in this emerging network, and currently provides 4,000 pounds of food per month. A volunteer is able to pick up and deliver to the pantry an additional 2,000 pounds of food per month from this food bank. Current suppliers also include Guido’s Fresh Marketplace, Berkshire Food Co-op, Big Y, and High Lawn, Tory Hill and Indian Line Farms.

Rising Costs of Living Continue to Impact Our Community

The pantry now serves 500-600 people per week. Beth Moser, President and Chair of the Board, sees that number increasing, due to the rising costs of living. The MIT Living Wage Calculator identifies the required hourly living wage in Berkshire County, for one individual working full-time, and with no children, as $17.64 to cover all cost-of-living expenses. The current $15 hourly minimum wage creates a gap of $2.63, or an annual shortfall of $5,500 per individual.* Additionally, a 2022 Greater Boston Food Bank survey revealed that 33% of the state’s population reported household food insecurity.**

Moser notes that in our current economic climate, there is no “typical” type of resident that uses the pantry. Retired people, immigrants, people with part or full-time jobs, people with a disability, or anyone experiencing financial strain or a sudden disruption to their income will visit.

The People's Pantry at St. James Place in Great Barrington, MA is open two days a week and residents can register for one pickup per week. Paper applications are available in Spanish and English. The pantry offers fresh produce, frozen meats, dairy products, essential shelf-stable items, pet food and some toiletries. Photo by John Dolan.

Community Support Remains Essential to Success

Seeing the pantry’s long lines in 2020 prompted many locals to ask how they could help, resulting in hundreds of donations of cash and time. However, as time has passed, this influx of funds has decelerated, even as food insecurity remains high. Anne Hutchinson, Director of Operations at the pantry, takes pride in the fact that the pantry has managed to stay open without any lapses since its start in 1999, and she believes a “neighbors helping neighbors” ethic will be the key to continued success.

Moser finds direct, face-to-face conversations with the residents the pantry serves to be especially gratifying. Some lend a hand in the weekly unloading of food trucks, and the camaraderie lifts everyone’s spirits. Some share that being able to get supplemental food relieves much stress, making it possible to allocate money to other essentials. Occasionally, someone who has needed the pantry in the past stops by to share that they are doing better financially and make a donation. Seeing the pantry’s positive impact has shown her that through community collaboration, “remarkable things” can happen.

If you would like to make a contribution to The People's Pantry Endowment in honor of their 25th anniversary, please use the button below.

*MIT Living Wage Calculator for Berkshire County I **Greater Boston Food Bank 2022 Report

Maintaining confidentiality of names, the pantry is only required to report the number of household members, their age groups (under 18, 18-64, 65+) and how often each household shops to the Food Bank of Western MA. The pantry collects the town of residence for fundraising purposes and a name or pseudonym for internal tracking.

Donate to the People's Pantry Endowment Fund