What started out as an outreach mission of St. Paul’s Church 25 years ago to feed people has now become a more accessible organization, growing into two separate locations and becoming its own nonprofit now known as the Brookline Food Pantry (BFP).
In 2012, 4,900 Brookline residents depended on the Brookline Food Pantry. Now, the number has doubled to 8,900 residents. Before there were 70 volunteers and now there are 100 volunteers. The pantry went from serving 2,500 pounds of food to now serving 7,200 pounds of food. As Thanksgiving approaches, getting more money and food has become even more crucial.
The person who is responsible for getting food within the budget is Rene Feuerman, the executive director of the food pantry. The pantry has also hired additional staff to help with its operation since the scale has increased. More volunteers drive trucks, stock shelves, serve clients, and deliver food. But this is still not enough.
“We need more truck drivers,” Feuerman said. “ I am still ultimately responsible to make sure that we have all the money to buy all the food that we buy.”
People get referred to the pantry by social workers or various organizations like the Brookline Housing Authority, Brookline Public Schools, SNAP, Brookline Mental Health, and interfaith organizations, just to name a few. According to the BFP, approximately 7,500 people, or 13 percent of Brookline residents live in poverty.
“I’ve seen a lot of change over the years,” Feuerman said. “From the amount of people coming to the amount of money spending, and to the pressure of having to make more money.”
Feuermen came on board more than 4 years ago. Just about a year and a half ago, the pantry became a 501(c)(3) nonprofit and has a second location at 55 Egmont Street. Feuerman went from being a coordinator to now the executive director. During her tenure, she has helped increase the number of fresh food offerings with the support of many local supermarkets like Trader Joe’s, Stop and Shop, and Whole Foods.
Each week, the BFP picks up food from the Greater Boston Food Bank. That’s in addition to getting some $25,000 worth of free food from grocery stores, local retailers, bakeries, nonprofits like Lovin’ Spoonful, and through other food programs. Even with the free and supplemental food, and a big, discounted price, the pantry still has food expenses. They have spent $220,000 for food from the Greater Boston Food Bank and Roche Brothers.
The BFP’s annual fundraiser is coming up in November, which usually makes up 75 percent of the pantry’s annual budget. Like every November, Feuerman sends out the annual letter to a list of supporters, which often gets answered with generous donations. But since more people have become dependent on the pantry over the years, the annual budget has gone up and Feuerman is seeking to get more donations, grants, and corporate sponsorships than ever before. Feuerman must purchase and collect more food, and the pressure has become greater.
“I can’t make it happen without people donating,” she said. “We are at a crucial point of raising money to continue this mission and this effort. I do feel every day the pressure that we continue to be there for everybody.”
This year the BFP branches out to fundraise through the Dancing with the Brookline Stars, an event host by the Brookline Rotary Club. This is the first time in its 25-year existence that the BFP has decided to fundraise through the event, which the rotary club started four years ago.
“Doing new things creates more awareness of our need,” Feuerman said. “Funds are now tight, and we have decided to participate in Dancing with the Stars.”
The dancing representative for the pantry is the Rev. Jeff Mello of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, where the Brookline Food Pantry is located.
“Jeff also feels the burden and our mission,” Feuerman said. “We pay them no overhead to remain in their church, and use their space and reside with them. They are truly dedicated to our cause.”
Mello hired Feuermen more than four years ago to coordinate the food pantry.
“The fact that some of our neighbors don’t have the basic of their needs being met is something that we have a responsibility to respond to,” Mello said. He has been practicing new dance moves and will show off his routine on November 5. He said he feels confident because he has a background in theater and performance.
Although he is still a little nervous because he has never ballroom danced in the spotlight, he is determined to raise money for the food pantry.
“The fact that it is to raise money for the food pantry makes it a lot easier,” Mello said.
With the holidays coming up, the pressure is on to feed Brookline. In 2011, they served 163 turkeys, and in 2015, they served 450 turkeys. This Thanksgiving they are expecting to serve more turkeys than ever.