Andrea Marczely has been the food access coordinator for the Barnstable County Cape Cod Cooperative Extension for a little over a month now.
The cooperative created the job in August to fill the communication gap between food pantries and residents with food insecurities on the Cape.
Ms. Marczely gave an update to the Barnstable Board of Regional Commissioners at their meeting on Wednesday, November 25.
“I thought that tomorrow we’re all going to be hopefully enjoying a big meal, and across the country there are people that are having problems with that, so I thought, knowing that the county is involved in organizing food programs around the Cape or at least facilitating some, I thought I’d bring in Andrea Marczely,” board chairman Ronald Bergstrom said.
This Wednesday was Ms. Marczely’s first open meeting with the commissioners.
“It’s been a really busy first month in my role as food access coordinator,” she said. “I’ve been working really closely with the nutrition team as well as the Health and Human Services Department to connect with all the different agencies and organizations on the Cape to hear what it is that they do, what they’re offering to the community residents, as well as trying to understand what the need is on the Cape in terms of food security.”
Ms. Marczely said she did not expect to learn that the Cape has plenty of food resources.
The majority of the food is coming from the Greater Boston Food Bank.
“The pantries whom I’ve spoken to have said that they really limited the donations that they receive because of COVID, and right now they’re taking monetary donations, so that they can buy food at the Greater Boston Food Bank,” she said. “And they asked that, if anybody wants to donate, they just give them money directly because they can get food cheaper through the Greater Boston Food Bank.”
Some of the food resources also come from donations from local Stop & Shop and Shaw’s supermarkets.
“It seems like there’s plenty of food on the Cape for those who need it,” she said.
Distributing that food, however, remains one of the biggest problems the county is facing, Ms. Marczely said.
“Getting the food to the people that don’t have transportation, people who live in remote areas and the homeless can be very difficult,” she said. “There’s a lot of challenges, especially as we head into the winter months and with the pandemic and the cases rising, but there’s a lot of great opportunities as a county to work together.”
Another issue on the Cape is how to increase awareness of available resources.
“What I am learning is that some of our immediate needs are creating awareness and creating communication around what resources are out there for our residents and how [can] they access that food,” Ms. Marczely said. “So right now especially with Thanksgiving and the holiday season coming up, we’re getting a lot more phone calls. People are getting really desperate, and they just need to know what’s out there and how can they get this food they need.”
Ms. Marczely said she received a call this morning from a woman who said her husband had just been laid off.
“She’s never needed food in the past, and she has two small kids and she’s desperate, and she called to see what was out there,” she said. “I was so thankful that she knew to call the county and to ask for this information.”
The woman needed a few bags of groceries to hold her family over until her state Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits started, Ms. Marczely found out.
“So that’s what we’re hearing is happening on the Cape,” she said. “A lot of people who never needed these resources before, they don’t know where the food pantries are, and they don’t know if they even qualify for the food, and they’re calling in.”
Ms. Marczely is working with the public relations team at the cooperative to make the information more accessible to the community and to let people know the extent of food resources available.
“The other thing is that I’ve noticed a need for agencies [to share] information with each other,” Ms. Marczely said, adding that one food pantry had many cases of spoiling food but could not distribute all of it.
The pantry reached out to Ms. Marczely, who was able to move those food resources to some other agencies before the food perished.
“Some of the other needs I’m hearing about are trying to understand what are the barriers for keeping people from accessing this food,” she said. “There’s a lot of stigma and embarrassment about asking for help, so just making it very comfortable for people to talk about it and not to be ashamed. We are in really unprecedented times, so letting them know it’s okay. If you need food, there’s food available, and we’d love to help you.”
Another need Ms. Marczely addressed is understanding cultural diversity and sensitivity around food.
“We have quite a diverse group of people in our areas, so for them to know that there is food and how to access it, and also making sure it’s food that they’re willing to eat and that they know how to cook,” she said.