As COVID-19 continues to affect the financial capacities for many in Massachusetts it both creates barriers for those who rely on community-based services like NBA and sparks an increased need for such services. Still, with the commitment of food donations from the Big Y and Wholefoods in Amherst, NBA continues to serve its usual three meals per week on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays and also continue to pass out groceries to those served each Saturday as needed.
NBA program supervisor Bob Stover estimates that although their usual participation has lowered by about a third, averaging 35 guests on Wednesdays and Sundays and 45 on Saturdays, he’s also seeing an increase of new faces from the surrounding communities.
“Based on what I’ve heard talking to people, I would say that the folks with stable, if low-income, housing are staying away to avoid congregating with others,” Stover said. “On the other hand, for those experiencing homelessness and shelter residents, we are all the more important. At every meal I am seeing three to five folks from Northampton shelters or towns like Deerfield who had never come before the coronavirus.
During meal preparation, service and clean-up, NBA staff and volunteers have been vigilant in ensuring their procedures comply with CDC and Amherst Health Department guidelines and adequately work to protect the safety of all guests, volunteers and staff. Before and after each meal all surfaces are thoroughly sanitized, and staff and volunteers keep their hands washed and gloved and wear masks. Guests are now served outside of the building and have the option to choose between vegetarian and non-vegetarian pre-packed bags, which in addition to a main course include sides like soups and salads, a desert, and coffee. Once receiving their bag, guests are then asked to take their meals elsewhere eat. The line leading up to the serving table is strictly controlled to ensure a 6-foot distance between all guests and volunteers.
“I believe the number of diners at our meals will continue to climb as restaurants and other food sources remain closed, and as folks learn that we not only have safe procedures but really good food,” Stover said. “People have to have food.”
A large component of what has allowed NBA to continue service despite the many challenges of the time has been the dedication of its volunteers, most especially those who still have the capacity to serve in the midst of a pandemic. One such volunteer who Stover credits as being crucial to NBA’s continued success is Kathy LeMay, who in addition to a being a critical volunteer at NBA also works in the field of global social change.
“What I’m seeing in Bob’s leadership and the other volunteers is adaptability. That’s an enormously impressive skill: to be able to adapt to an ever-changing landscape with information we’re getting that seems to update every 24 hours, and I’m watching Not Bread Alone respond to that rather than react to it,” LeMay said.
LeMay is renowned as a global thought leader on philanthropy, as well as an acclaimed speaker and author. She first volunteered at NBA last summer, and has been a regular volunteer for nearly a year. But as preventive measures to reduce the spread of COVID-19 have begun to impact the lives of those they serve, it also greatly affected their volunteer base, which historically has relied on volunteers from local colleges and universities as well as help from local seniors. To that end, NBA is welcoming any new volunteers who are interested in helping in any of the many aspects that make up NBA’s service, including food prep, cooking, meal distribution, and clean-up. Volunteers can come in for a select amount of hours of for any of the segments of the service, whether it be just food prep or just to help clean, all are welcome.
“People’s own health and wellness is our priority—truly, absolutely yes. And if you’re looking for a way to help we can put you to great use,” LeMay said. “For me, I know it feels really good to come in and make a difference—to break up my own routine, not spend the time refreshing the news cycle, and just really be here and focus on getting meals out of the door with a great group of people. I’m seeing that new volunteers are finding it very mentally helpful for them, too. It would be great to see some new faces, if that’d work for people.”
NBA’s Wednesday meal is served between 3:45 PM and 5:15 PM and Saturdays and Sundays between 11:45 AM and 1:15 PM outside the lower levels of First Congregational Church of Amherst at 165 Main Street. If you can help or have questions or would like to volunteer, please contact program supervisor Bob Stover at [email protected]. If you are not able to volunteer but would still like to offer support, all are welcome to make a donation