Contributed by Zoe Brooks
Despite the challenges that COVID-19 has posed, the Brookline Food Pantry’s heart has only strengthened. With an increased commitment to its mission, whether through packaging food, bagging groceries or breaking down boxes, the Food Pantry creates connections within the community.
The Brookline Food Pantry has grown extensively during COVID-19, and this growth has promoted an environment that supports both clients and volunteers. At the very beginning of the pandemic, the Pantry struggled, but now the Pantry is bigger than it has ever been before.
Arielle Chernin, the recently appointed managing director of the Food Pantry, said the operations have quadrupled since the start of COVID-19.
“Since COVID, the food pantry is now doing 700 clients a week. So it jumped from 150 to 700,” Chernin said. “Not only did we have to increase the number of people that we serve, but we also had to follow the protocols and that meant changing the entire operation.”
Maddie Kennedy, the Assistant to the Operations Manager, has been volunteering at the Brookline Food Pantry for four years. When COVID-19 began posing challenges, and the volunteer pool declined in number, Kennedy decided to help.
“I heard that they were having a real volunteer shortage, so I stepped in, and then over the summer, they asked me to take a leadership role. Before the pandemic, the volunteer base was mostly older, retired folks so when the virus hit, the Pantry lost almost their entire volunteer base,” Kennedy said.
Chernin said that volunteering is a unique experience that would benefit all students.
“You’re directly benefiting somebody’s life by giving them food for the entire week. It’s eye-opening. A lot of Brookline comes from very privileged backgrounds and to be able to see what the other side is like, literally down the street from where you live, is something every Brookline student should experience,” Chernin said.
The Pantry has been reaching out to schools, workplaces and other community groups in Brookline to find more volunteers, and many people have been eager to help.
“The administration has done a fantastic job of not only recruiting but creating an environment where volunteers feel safe so that they want to come back,” Kennedy said. “They also just created a fun environment where most people get to interact with each other and be social over the shared goal of serving our community but also be safe in doing so.”
Chernin said that although COVID-19 has caused a lot of financial and emotional hardship, Brookline residents want to help and use their resources for good.
“There’s a much bigger impact in that there are more families in need. And there are also a lot more volunteers who are looking to participate. At the beginning of COVID-19, everyone was so distraught. They wanted to help, but they didn’t know how to. People had time and money and resources that they wanted to give,” Chernin said.
Junior Ali Morse, a weekly volunteer, said that the Pantry has given her a chance to get in touch with the community in new ways.
“After being in quarantine for so long, I’ve realized the importance of a strong community. In a way, the Food Pantry has been my entrance into my community because it’s introduced me to so many new people and has educated me on what’s going on in my town,” Morse said. “I’ve met people of all different ages, races and backgrounds, people that I wouldn’t have met in my everyday life, and learned about their experiences, and I’m very grateful for that.”
Chernin said it is special to support people within your own community.
“To be able to take a job that is directly serving the community that raised me feels really special, and I think a lot of people feel the same. If you’re going to volunteer your time and your money and resources, I think doing it within your own community is something that people really value.”
Morse said that the Food Pantry allows her to meet and connect with people she would not normally have the opportunity to interact with.
“Every week I work at the Food Pantry, I meet someone new. I’ve met people of all different ages, races and backgrounds, people that I wouldn’t have met in my everyday life, and learned about their experiences,” Morse said.
The Food Pantry has given volunteers a space to learn, grow and connect with others, all while doing good for the community.
“The volunteers are just some of the kindest people on the planet and the clients really touch your heart with their stories and laughter,” Kennedy said. “I have learned more about the human capacity for kindness and selflessness than I have learned in all my 19 years.”