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Peabody pantry is a haven from hunger in troubled times

By Thor Jourgensen | April 3, 2020

PEABODY — Citizens Inn Haven from Hunger retooled its Willis Street pantry to get food into local hands, while maintaining coronavirus social distancing protocols. 

Drawing on food donated by grocery stores and supplied by the Greater Boston Food Bank, Citizens Inn distributes 1.7 million pounds of food to Peabody, Salem and Lynnfield residents annually. 

When coronavirus hit two weeks ago and social distancing warnings went out, many regular pantry clients stayed home. But Citizens Inn development officer Gianna Langis said newly-unemployed residents have come to pick up food with 80 people signing up for food last week.

“Normally, we get two or three signups a week,” Langis said.

Located at 71 Willis St., the pantry is open 10:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m., Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. The senior hour is 9-10 a.m. on the same days. 

Before coronavirus, pantry clients picked up their food “supermarket-style,” said Langis. Social distancing protocols mean volunteers wheel groceries to clients on a cart. The clients take the groceries off the cart and the cart is disinfected after each distribution.

Citizens Inn annually serves roughly 4,000 individuals who are experiencing food insecurity.

Similar changes have been made to Citizens Inn’s community meals program. Once a sit-down, restaurant-type atmosphere, the program switched to grab and go, takeout-style meals at 4 p.m. 

Langis said product shortages experienced by grocers after coronavirus restrictions were initially implemented prompted Citizens Inn to arrange to obtain food from restaurants facing closure orders under virus-fighting mandates. 

About half the food provided by the pantry comes from the Greater Boston Food Bank and Langis said grocers once again are providing the remainder. 

The pantry needs more volunteers and hopes to hire unemployed restaurant workers to help meet increased client demand.

Working with the Peabody public schools under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, Citizens Inn has worked to provide groceries to 2,200 families with children signed up to receive free and reduced breakfast and lunch.

The meals are served in schools. After schools were closed as a precaution for at least the next month, the meals program was reorganized into a “grab and go” pickup at three schools on Mondays with families picking up enough food for a week.

Veterans Memorial High School and Higgins Middle School served as meal “grab and go” sites on Mondays, 1-3 p.m. and the Welch Elementary School hosts “grab and go” Mondays noon-3 p.m. 

“I can’t say enough for Citizens Inn and our school volunteers,” said Interim School Superintendent Dr. Marc Kerble. 

He said the School Committee will meet next Tuesday to discuss potential readjustments to “grab and go” in the event a predicted coronavirus case increase prompts more people to stay at home.  

Currently, Citizens Inn is not accepting in-kind donations from the public. To make a financial contribution, go to https://www.citizensinn.org/give-to-citizens-inn/.