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January 25, 2021
Two Salem Nonprofits Launch Initiative to Combat Hunger
Salem Pantry PEM HP

December 3, 2020 — Two Salem nonprofits—The Salem Pantry, which works to eradicate hunger in the area, and the Peabody Essex Museum—this week announced a joint initiative spurred by the coronavirus pandemic, called Feeding Community, to raise awareness of food insecurity, boost fundraising, and recruit volunteers to support the pantry’s expanding operations.

The initiative calls for the Peabody Essex Museum (PEM) to enroll volunteers, collect food donations on site at the museum, and help distribute food to the community through The Salem Pantry.

Financial contributions made to PEM’s Annual Fund or The Salem Pantry during December will help unlock a challenge pledge of $20,000 from Larry and Atsuko Fish, of the Fish Family Foundation.

Amanda Clark MacMullan, PEM’s chief philanthropy officer, said, “This is a win-win partnership that helps strengthen our community by feeding the body and feeding the soul. Through creative collaboration with The Salem Pantry, we hope to help our neighbors find the nourishment and resources they need for themselves and their families.”

Spawning the initiative has been significantly higher food insecurity across the North Shore—defined as the lack of nutritionally adequate and safe food or the ability to acquire such food—driven by economic strains caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

The Salem Pantry, which served 2,400 people last year, expects to serve 6,500 this year. The number of children alone will nearly quadruple, from 720 in 2019 to 2,600 in 2020.

Robyn Burns, who became the pantry’s first full-time executive director in March, as the pandemic hit Massachusetts, said she expects her organization to distribute nearly one million pounds of food in 2020, up from 250,000 pounds last year.

The North Shore mirrors statewide conditions. According to the Greater Boston Food Bank (GBFB), one in seven people—and one in five children—are expected to suffer from hunger in 2020, up substantially from before the pandemic. The Salem Pantry is a distribution hub for North Shore hunger relief agencies through GBFB.

While The Salem Pantry works with more than a dozen food and distribution partners, Burns said the ongoing—and growing—pandemic meant it needed to build more partnerships to meet the increasing need for food.

“Working with PEM really helps to elevate our profile and reach, and also aligns with our efforts to bring the community together through food, which is not easy during COVID,” she said.

The pantry has adjusted operations to meet the crisis. Before COVID-19, it had one full-time employee, and now has three, with one more slated to join soon. A corps of 20 regular volunteers pre-COVID has grown to 75. The organization also is in the final phase of a new food distribution warehouse, slated to be completed this winter.

Supporting the increased effort has been “amazing growth” in fundraising, Burns said.

“We have worked hard to build out our individual donor and small family foundation portfolio, while also investing time in relationships with the local business community. These have all helped us raise funds at this time,” she said.

The need for more funds is only likely to grow, as Burns projects that demand for food in her service area will increase in 2021 by 60% over current levels.

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