AMESBURY — Shopping carts will be popping up in banks throughout the area during the month of March as part of a neighborly endeavor to help those in need.
“The enthusiasm has been really high,” Our Neighbors’ Table board member Joan Bukoskey said of the second annual communitywide food drive that will place shopping carts and collection boxes at 23 branches of 12 different banks in the area. “The banks are very excited to be participating and to have them all coming together, working hand in hand on a project like this is really wonderful.”
Designed to keep their pantry shelves stocked throughout the spring and into the summer, Our Neighbors’ Table has partnered with Align Credit Union, Citizens Bank, Eastern Bank, the Institution for Savings, Newburyport Five Cents Savings Bank, the Provident Bank, Haverhill Bank, Louise E. Mills Federal Credit Union, Merrimac Savings Bank, RTN Federal Credit Union, St. Jean’s Credit Union and TD Bank branches to collect non-perishable food items as well as personal care products, until the end of March.
“I didn’t have to twist any arms to get people to sign up,” Bukoskey said. “I think all of these institutions really care about their community. To be part of something bigger is a wonderful approach to a community need.”
Based out of Amesbury, Our Neighbors’ Table has been serving the community and surrounding towns for more than 20 years. Since 2011, the number of households coming in for support has increased 100 percent. Last year the food bank distributed almost 500,000 pounds of food to needy families and individuals.
“People can be very embarrassed about coming to a food bank,” Bukoskey said. “We try to make it as welcoming as possible. It is very difficult for people to come in and ask for that assistance. And whenever something happens, particularly something like a harsh winter, it stretches their budget. People are taking what are already very limited resources and are putting those toward heating costs. In order to keep their homes warm, they are spending more of their budget on heating, which means either rent suffers or other utilities suffer.”
This winter has found Our Neighbors’ Table in desperate need of personal care products. Shampoo, deodorant, toothpaste, bar soap, shaving cream, disposable razors and diapers (sizes 4 and large) can be dropped off at the bank branches along with food. More than 30 percent of the food at Our Neighbors’ Table comes from community donations. Last year’s food drive filled an 8-foot box truck with an assortment of canned food.
The organization is also in need of donations of canned chicken, pasta sauce, canned meals and canned fruit.
“It is important to have community support,” Bukoskey said. “Without that, we really couldn’t (do this).”
President and CEO of Merrimac Savings Bank John Meserve was happy to have his bank joining the food drive for the first time this year.
“I am sure that all of the participating organizations are pleased to provide this support to such a worthwhile cause,” Meserve said in a press release. “Our Neighbors’ Table does so much for our communities and offers a support system that is utilized by so many. This is but a small way to say thanks.”
The shopping carts will disappear once April begins, but Bukoskey hopes they will inspire some thought.
“They are there to remind the people in the community that it is a struggle for some of them to put food on the table,” Bukoskey said. “And it is through the generosity of the banks and the credit unions that we can make this food drive a success. People can drop off donations anytime they go to the bank.”