The Brookline Food Pantry, a nonprofit organization with three different locations in Brookline, is currently serving as many as 700 households a week, almost a four-fold spike since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
With a quarter of Brookline residents “financially vulnerable” according to the Brookline Community Foundation’s 2023 “Understanding Brookline” report, there is an increasing need for the pantry’s services.
“Almost all the people who came pre-COVID are still coming,” said Arielle Chernin, operations manager of the pantry. “Surprisingly… [there are] no major signs in terms of going back to a lower number.”
To be eligible, clients must be a resident of Brookline, Chernin said. No proof of financial need is required and the pantry is open to all ages. 55% of the pantry’s clients are over 65-years-old, she said.
Clients receive three bags of pre-packaged groceries each visit, with items like milk, eggs, fruit and vegetables.
The increased volume at the pantry’s locations, which combined are open between Tuesday and Friday each week, has forced changes in how it operates, according to Chernin. Clients used to individually pick their groceries, but now the pantry’s volunteers pre-pack bags for them.
“It’s helped us tremendously. It’s not as good for the clients because everybody likes to be able to choose their food, we wish we could do that,” she said. “However, we provide a decent variety with a lot of choices for them within their bag, and people seem to be fine with what we offer.”
On Mondays, the pantry delivers groceries to about 90 people who aren’t able to get to a location to pick them up.
The pantry also has a program for Brookline Public Schools students called “Brookline Thrives,” which provides food to students on weekends when school meals are unavailable. On Fridays, families can pick up bags at their students’ school or the community room at 226 High Street.
Volunteers, clients reflect on value to community
Brookline resident Barbara Flanagan has volunteered at the pantry since 2021. She said she started after retirement to do something local and “meaningful.”
“I think it’s awful that, in this country, people don’t have enough food,” Flanagan said.
“Food is really expensive, and it doesn’t take much to add up. They can save some money on some essentials.”
The food pantry itself has felt the effects of rising food prices. According to its 2023 impact report, the pantry spent $80,000 on food in May, more than double the $38,000 spent in May 2022.
Claudio Jose Rodriguez, 64, comes to the food pantry to pick up groceries after his part-time job. He said he’s been coming for about two months.
“[My wife has] a disability, and stays at home,” Rodriguez said. “I pick up the food for my wife and two girls.”
Brookline resident Bessie Brownell has volunteered since 2017. She said she primarily helps handle and bag produce, although she also helps wherever she’s needed.
“At the time I came from Liberia with my family, I had no job, and I was lonely at home,” Brownell said. “This was my first job.”
Brownell says she sometimes brings some of the pantry’s groceries to her neighbor who can’t make it to a location.
“We are helping our community… putting a smile on people’s faces,” Brownell said. “I’m so happy that we are helping people.”
The food pantry’s United Parish location at 15 Marion Street is open Wednesday from 2:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m., Thursday from 10:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. and Friday from 10:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.
The location at the High Street Veterans Community Room at 226 High Street is open Tuesday from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m.
The third location, at 55 Egmont Street, is only open to Brookline Housing Authority residents.