Food for all: United Way, HCC team up to open new food pantry in Holyoke that’s open to all who show up

Emmanuel Reyes, from left, Janae Alleyne, Stacy Graves, Miguel Arroyo and Lee Drewitz pose for a photo  with food pantry items for the Holyoke Community Cupboard at the HCC MGM Culinary Arts Institute on Race Street in Holyoke.

Emmanuel Reyes, from left, Janae Alleyne, Stacy Graves, Miguel Arroyo and Lee Drewitz pose for a photo with food pantry items for the Holyoke Community Cupboard at the HCC MGM Culinary Arts Institute on Race Street in Holyoke. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Food pantry items from the Holyoke Community Cupboard at the HCC MGM Culinary Arts Institute on Race Street in Holyoke.

Food pantry items from the Holyoke Community Cupboard at the HCC MGM Culinary Arts Institute on Race Street in Holyoke. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Emmanuel Reyes shows the part of the new Holyoke Community Cupboard food pantry space Thursday at the HCC MGM Culinary Arts Institute on Race Street in Holyoke.

Emmanuel Reyes shows the part of the new Holyoke Community Cupboard food pantry space Thursday at the HCC MGM Culinary Arts Institute on Race Street in Holyoke. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Part of the new Holyoke Community Cupboard food pantry space at the HCC MGM Culinary Arts Institute on Race Street in Holyoke.

Part of the new Holyoke Community Cupboard food pantry space at the HCC MGM Culinary Arts Institute on Race Street in Holyoke. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

The new Holyoke Community Cupboard food pantry space is located at the HCC MGM Culinary Arts Institute on Race Street in Holyoke.

The new Holyoke Community Cupboard food pantry space is located at the HCC MGM Culinary Arts Institute on Race Street in Holyoke. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

By EMILEE KLEIN

Staff Writer

Published: 11-23-2023 10:00 AM

HOLYOKE — The Holyoke Community Cupboard, United Way of Pioneer Valley’s newest food pantry with Holyoke Community College, seeks to tackle stigmas of emergency food supplies by offering refrigerated and frozen staples to anyone who needs to supplement their food budgets.

“They’re technically called emergency food pantries. A lot of people have this mindset [of] you’re coming in because you’re facing an emergency,” said Lee Drewitz, director of program operations at United Way of Pioneer Valley. “But for a lot of people it’s a financial reality that they need this to subsidize their SNAP benefits because SNAP benefits do not cover the cost of food,”

The food pantry, which opened this month at the Cubit Building on Race Street, hands out packed bags of dry goods, produce and frozen meats every Thursday from 2:30 to 5:30 p.m. Through United Way’s partnership with the HCC MGM Culinary Arts Institute, the pantry also develops educational demonstrations and resources on healthy eating to address food insecurity and community health simultaneously.

United Way runs two other food pantries: one in Springfield and one in Chicopee. The Western Massachusetts Food Bank and Massachusetts’ food rescue nonprofit Loving Spoonfuls supplies food to the pantries. Only unopened and inspected items from the food rescue end up in bags. Grocery items United Way has handed out include frozen ribs, frozen fillet mignon, apples, plums, carrots and potatoes.

HCC counselor Emmanuel Reyes, a community outreach manager at United Way, said the food pantry helps patrons save money by providing core dietary items for meals rather than canned goods.

“We’ve given them a very a good portion of their typical basket at the supermarket, so now they can go to the supermarket and say, ‘OK, I didn’t get X, Y and Z from the food pantry, so now I can use my food stamps or my own money to afford [items] that they might be missing,’” Reyes said.

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Anyone, regardless of residency status, geographic location and socioeconomic class, can come to the food pantry. Drewitz said there are optional forms to fill out, but the only requirement is to show up.

“There’s people who are at entry-level jobs from students, basically people who are working towards a situation where they are financially secure, but they’re not yet,” Drewtiz said. “[We are] making sure they know they’re welcome here.”

At full scale, Drewitz estimates the pantry can supply food to between 150 and 180 people a week. While customers have been few and far between in the first couple weeks, Drewitz anticipates the pantry will experience a steady increase in patrons as word of its operation spreads.

Beyond food, Drewitz notes that the pantry plans to collect kitchen equipment required to prepare food, such as can openers, kids’ knife kits and utensils, to give out with pantry bags.

Through the partnership with HCC’s Culinary Arts Institute, the pantry also offers cooking classes, with original recipes concocted by college students and cookbooks in English and Spanish all containing ingredients from the food pantry. Two weeks ago, one of the nutrition classes at HCC developed six dinner recipes with ingredients from the food pantry for United Way’s partner organizations.

“In the future, we can actually host [demonstrations] for the patrons that come to get food and demonstrate to them how you can make healthy foods out of the food that you get from the food pantry,” Reyers said. “Another stigma that food pantry has is that you go to a food pantry to get unhealthy foods like government cheese and all that stuff and you can turn that into something healthy.”

Before partnering with the Culinary Arts Institute, United Way ran a satellite food pantry at the Picknelly Adult & Family Education Center Building on Maple Street for eight months. However, the space lacked the infrastructure to house refrigerated and frozen goods that are in highest demand by clients.

When United Way asked to expand, Stacy Graves, HCC faculty coordinator, and Jeff Hayden, HCC vice president of Business & Community Services, invited the nonprofit into the culinary space. Reyes said it was Hayden who originally identified the need for more food pantries in Holyoke to combat the city’s food desert status. Graves knew about the food pantry’s impact from the satellite pantry, and was a key advocate for the pantry’s success.

“It’s important, and we want to do our part to try to be good community partners and help the city of Holyoke meet this need, and we want to do that by providing healthy choices and healthy food and making it easy to access,” HCC President George Timmons said.

Emilee Klein can be reached at eklein@gazettenet.com.