Merrimack Valley Food Bank Celebrates 30 Years
Since 1991, the Merrimack Valley Food Bank has been dedicated to serving the people of the community.
“When we first started, we relied on a handful of companies in the immediate area who we reached out to and said ‘we are starting this initiative,’” says Amy Pessia, the food bank’s executive director. “We would rent a U-Haul and then we would pick up the food, bring it back to rented mill space … and then distribute it.”
The food bank has evolved since then. In 1995, it began operating out of a mill building donated by the Lowell Fruit Co., and it has been there ever since.
“The history of the building is so typical of the communities we serve,” Pessia says. “The food bank is a real gift to the community, and we feel privileged to be able to interact regularly with donors and supporters.”
In 2020 alone, the nonprofit distributed 3.8 million pounds of food. It now serves 120 programs and helps on average about 70,000 people every month through its network.
MVFB’s efficiency can be attributed to the refrigerated cinderblock building it has on its property. This enables the storage of dairy items, produce and frozen food. The 90 active member agencies are able to come through the building and pick the food they need for the week, just like shopping at a grocery store.
In addition to its food distribution program, MVFB created Operation Nourish in 2011. It provides schools, including those in Lowell, Lawrence and Chelmsford with bags of food or food by the case for their students. At the Greater Lawrence Technical School in Andover, the food bank constructed a pantry that supplies students and their families.
Once the pandemic started, the food bank had to adjust its distribution network.
“Our team is doing quadruple the work,” Pessia says. “We are taking food orders and we are almost like a gigantic pea pod. We are fulfilling orders for 120 programs every week and putting it on pallets. Then, when the member agency arrives at their pickup time, rather than their shopping time, they load the food into their vehicles and drive away.”
Despite the changes and the extra work during the pandemic, the staff at MVFB has never wavered in its support and dedication.
“Listening and responding to people trying to survive everyday life, who, because of losing their jobs or being laid off or for whatever other reasons, they are forced to decide on where the little money that they have should go,” says board president Jimmy Good. “Many have said that if it wasn’t for the MVFB, they don’t know how they would have been able to feed their families. If that doesn’t make you feel good to be able to help these people, I don’t know what does.”
Looking into the future, the MVFB knows that members of the community are going to be dealing with the negative impacts of the pandemic for an extended period of time. In order to continue its efforts, the MVFB is looking to move into a warehouse that will help the organization operate more efficiently.
“The need for emergency food will continue for the foreseeable future because there will always be people who won’t have enough money left over to buy food, which is, for us, unthinkable,” Pessia says. “We want people to be comforted, nourished and to take one more thing away that they have to be worried about.”
Merrimack Valley Food Bank