Brookline Food Pantry Director Rene Feuerman invites members of the community to spend an evening at the Brookline Teen Center to support the Brookline Food Pantry on Saturday. November 4. The fundraiser will include cocktails, music, and a silent auction. All net proceeds go to help its two food pantry locations and the families that depend on its services.

Tickets to the event are going fast. There are also several levels of corporate and personal sponsorships available. Even if you can’t attend the event, the food pantry asks you to purchase a ticket or contribute what you can afford to help your Brookline neighbors.

As the food pantry’s director, Rene Feuerman has established partnerships with grocery providers in Brookline over the past few years, including Whole Foods, Stop n’ Shop, and Trader Joe’s. Along with the Greater Boston Food Bank and Boston’s Lovin’ Spoonfuls, they donate packaged food and supply the pantry with fresh produce, a necessary addition to any healthy diet, especially young people.

The Brookline Food Pantry’s client list, those who utilize their two locations, represent every age and background in Brookline, including children and seniors, recent immigrants and longtime residents, male and female, both the well and disabled. Their two locations – one at 15 St. Paul Street and the other on Egmont Street – serve currently 850 households.

But just as their client population has increased, so has the pantry’s expenses. In 2016, the food pantry spent $185,997 on food, a 360% increase from 2009.

Feuerman recognizes that that type of growth is unsustainable without sufficient funds and support. Using her business expertise, she is forming a board of directors, ramping up donations, increasing advertising visibility so that the Brookline Food Pantry can look more than six months ahead without wondering if they’ll have enough food to support their community.

“One of the biggest misnomers is that we get all of our food for free from the Greater Boston Food Bank,” Feuerman explained, “Unfortunately this is not the case. In 2016 we paid them about $160,000. Don’t get me wrong; the Greater Boston Food Bank is an amazing organization. We receive a lot of free and reduced food from them. We depend on them and appreciate their assistance.  But on a local level, we need monetary support from the Brookline community so we can afford to continue to buy from them. ”

About five years earlier, Feuerman threw a different sort of party that wound up benefiting the Brookline Food Pantry. After living in the neighborhood for close to 20 years, she had never been there.

In 2012, Feuerman and her then 7-year-old daughter were having trouble planning her birthday party. Rene knew her daughter didn’t need any more toys but didn’t want her classmates to show up empty-handed. So instead of asking for presents, she asked for her guests to bring food – not for the party, but for the food pantry nearby.

As they were leaving the pantry, having delivered about 50 bags of produce, frozen dinners, and packaged food, her daughter turned to her and said, “My heart is so full; those people really needed that.”

A light bulb went off for Feuerman, too. “This was a great teaching opportunity for my kids,” she realized. “To show that if you can help, try and touch as many people as possible.” This was when she started volunteering.

Feuerman was surprised to learn that nearly 30 percent of Brookline residents live in households threatened by economic insecurity (falling below 300 percent of the federal poverty rate). Living in one of the most expensive suburbs in the state, these residents barely make ends meet. A few more statistics about Brookline that may surprise you:

  • 13% of Brookline residents – approximately 7,500 people – live in poverty.
  • 11.4% of Brookline students receive free and reduced lunches at school
  • 72% of families helped by pantry list women as head of household
  • 21% of Pantry clients are senior citizens

The Brookline Food Pantry exists to ensure that all Brookline residents have access to fresh, healthy food and that no one goes to bed hungry. What began as an outreach mission of St. Paul’s Church about 25 years ago has become Feuerman’s personal project — one that she hopes will influence others to take up the cause as well.

Food insecurity is often invisible, but while it’s hard to see, it is part of Brookline’s community. As Feuerman says, “Once you see that there’s poverty here, you can’t close your eyes to it.”

By Sophia Marie