Residents Support Small Business, Fight Food Insecurity

West Roxbury Main Streets Program #Hungry2Help Boosts Sales at 12 Neighborhood Businesses, Raises Over $3,200 for Boston-Area Food Pantries

People next to donations in a food pantry
WRMS Executive Director Jacob Robinson and Board Chair Elizabeth Hoenscheid (Owner, Top It Off Accessories) with Rose’s Bounty Director Darra Slagle following a food donation delivery to the basement of the Stratford Street United Church, West Roxbury (May 20, 2021; credit: WRMS).

In an era of declining sales for small businesses and rising hunger due to the COVID-19 pandemic, West Roxbury Main Streets, business owners, and neighborhood residents came together to launch the Hungry to Help promotion earlier this year.

Hungry to Help was based on a simple idea from Johnny Fortin, the owner of the Rox Diner. Business for main streets retailers and restaurants has been in decline since the onset of the pandemic, with devastating effects for staff, owners, and our neighborhood. At the same time, food insecurity for people across our community has skyrocketed since the public health emergency began in early 2020.

The Hungry to Help promotion emerged to drive customers back to our restaurants and other businesses in West Roxbury while raising proceeds to pay for urgently needed food donations. The promotion encouraged customers to purchase gift cards from participating West Roxbury restaurants and retailers during February and March. Participating businesses pledged to donate 10% of gift card sales to the Hungry to Help program. In a little less than two months, West Roxbury residents and businesses raised over $3,200 to fight food insecurity through the program.

Working with the Greater Boston Food Bank and in partnership with restaurant food supplier Performance Food Group ( PFG), WRMS used proceeds from Hungry to Help to buy pallets of food requested by the Food Bank to fulfill its most urgent needs. “With the generous help of our food supplier, PFG, we were able to take advantage of excess supplies and send additional resources to Bostonians in need,” said Fortin. The Food Bank supports a number of local food pantries, like Rose’s Bounty in West Roxbury and the Pilgrim Church in Dorchester, two of the charities in communities across the Greater Boston area that benefited from the Hungry to Help promotion and the generous support of our business owners and residents.

Neighborhood restaurants and businesses have seen revenue decrease in some cases by more than 50% during the pandemic. Customers purchasing gift cards during the promotion send ninety cents on every dollar directly to the participating businesses during Hungry to Help, keeping our businesses open, bills paid, and staff employed. “ Top It Off Accessories was floored by the customer enthusiasm and the support for Hungry to Help, and was happy to contribute to the fight against food insecurity across Boston,” said Elizabeth Hoenscheid, Top It Off’s Owner and WRMS Board President.

WRMS Board member Dean Kourtis of Sunray Cleaners loads #Hungry2Help donations on the back of a truck with the help of a Pilgrim Church volunteer, bound for the church’s food pantry in Dorchester (Credit: WRMS; March 12, 2021).

WRMS Board member Dean Kourtis added, “my family has owned and operated Sunray Cleaners for years, and to see the outpouring of support for our business and our community from friends and neighbors during this time was truly touching to all of us.”

WRMS volunteers load #Hungry2Help donations on a truck bound for the Pilgrim Church Food Pantry in Dorchester (Credit: WRMS; March 12, 2021).

On March 12, WRMS volunteers met in the Hastings Street parking lot to unload and deliver the first pallets of Hungry to Help purchases. The thousand-dollar donation was bound for a delivery to the Pilgrim Church Food Pantry in Dorchester, on the recommendation of the Greater Boston Food Bank. Recognition and thanks go to WRMS Board member Brian Trabish for volunteering to assist during this first delivery.

WRMS Volunteers, including Rox Diner owner John Fortin and the author, unload #Hungry2Help donations at the Rose’s Bounty Food Pantry, inside Stratford Street United Church in West Roxbury (Credit: WRMS; May 20, 2021).

On May 20, WRMS volunteers met again to deliver the second order from PFG, and were joined by Rose’s Bounty volunteers from the Stratford Street United Church in West Roxbury. A half-dozen volunteer vehicles ferried over $3,000 of food supplies and in-kind donations from Rox Diner to Rose’s Bounty, and assisted the food pantry with unloading its weekly delivery of 10,000 pounds of canned goods, dairy products and fresh produce from the Greater Boston Food Bank. Recognition and thanks also go to Sara Ward of Maiona Ward Immigration Law for volunteering to assist on this delivery, and to food supplier PFG for its additional and generous contributions.

The participating West Roxbury businesses were: Banh Mi Oi Cafe, Cryotherapy West Roxbury, Davis & Sawin Florists, Joe’s 320 Cafe, Recreo Coffee and Roasterie, Rox Diner, The Centerpiece Flower Shop, The Real Deal Deli, Sugar Baking Co., Sunray Cleaners, and Top It Off Accessories. WRMS Executive Director Jacob Robinson said, “we can’t thank our businesses enough for stepping up during this time to support our neighbors, and know that we couldn’t have done it without the support of West Roxbury residents.”

West Roxbury Main Streets encourages residents to learn more about its programs and to volunteer and help support our community and its business district. Visit https://www.wrms.org or contact Executive Director Jacob Robinson at (617) 325–6400 for more information.

Our neighborhood food pantry, Rose’s Bounty (located in the basement of the Stratford Street United Church), has high demand for volunteers, especially during the summer months. Visit https://www.stratfordstreetunitedchurch.org/food-pantry.html for more information and to help neighbors in need today.

Originally published at https://patch.com on June 3, 2021.

Boston, MA attorney and consultant specializing in labor and employment law, dispute resolution and government relations.

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