Food for residents in need
By Joyce Westner
Sept. 5, 2023. In a town know for affluent residents, it may come as a surprise that food insecurity is a problem for some families. And there are several organizations ready to help them. Meals on Wheels may be the most well-known, but there are two serving Winchester, the national one through Minuteman Senior Services, and also a local one started by En Ka members and other women wanting to help.
Meals on Wheels Winchester (MOWW) (https://www.winchestermamealsonwheels.org/) feeds about 25 families, according to its current president Paula Michienzi, who says it’s “small but mighty.” They have close to fifty drivers who take turns covering three routes a day.
“We fund raise through churches and local banks, and the Winchester Hospital is an integral partner,” Michienzi says. “That’s where we get the food.” MOWW’s paid coordinator Mike Toomey fills the bags at the hospital with food purchased from the same vendor that supplies the hospital food. For $4.50 per bag, a resident is given a hot meal, plus a cold meal.
“Our clients aren’t necessarily low income,” says Michienzi, “but they may be immobile, or disabled,” which is why there’s no income information required to get this help. “We do good work for whoever needs it,” she adds. And the drivers also perform a type of wellness check for residents whose families live far away or have work schedule conflicts. Michienzi is a Winchester High School substitute teacher and volunteers for MOWW, plus is the newly-elected Rotary Club president.
More visible and serving more families, the En Ka Food Pantry on Main Street similarly asks for no income information and their items are free to Winchester residents. “We serve 57 households, adding up to 177 people each month,” says their president Judy Buongiorno. And unlike MOWW, they also provide personal care products, undergarments, socks, and even a Staples gift card for school kids in the program.
En Ka recently invested in three freezers and they get food from several sources. “Every Friday Lovin Spoonfuls Food Rescue goes to Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s where they get perishables close to their expiration date,” and drops the food off at the pantry. And on Thursdays the Merrimack Valley Food Bank brings food. Wright-Locke Farm also provides fresh organic produce, which En Ka buys through a matching grants program.
Non-perishables can be dropped off on their front porch as long as they’re not past expiration dates. Pick-up is by appointment to preserve the privacy of their clients. “People wonder why someone drives up in their Mercedes to get food,” says Buongiorno, “but if a job is lost or an illness happens, people can fall behind so quickly.”
And another question arises about why they might provide Oreos, as opposed to healthy food items, but Buongiorno quoted En Ka member Dot Butler, that “Every house should have a cookie.”
Dot Butler knows what she’s talking about as organizer of the program Winchester Got Lunch. It started 13 years ago to feed school families over the summer. “We feed about 30 families, which adds up to about 60 kids,” says Butler. “We order food weekly from the Stop & Shop and on Monday our high school volunteers pick it up.” They bring it to the First Congregational Church where the students divide it up and bag meals that might include deli turkey, bread, Spaghetti-O’s, cookies, fruit, hummus and carrot sticks.
“We have total confidentiality,” with three adult drivers having no idea whose houses they’re dropping food at, says Butler. Got Lunch does fund-raising and hosts events where they divide the ticket sales with a co-sponsor.
Both En Ka and Got Lunch have been the recipient of Cummings Grants, and all three groups accept financial donations. Buongiorno sadly pointed out that their appointment requests have been rising.