FLORENCE — Food insecurity skyrocketed in the past year in the Valley as the pandemic caused layoffs, slowdowns, and business closures, and the results of Florence Bank’s 19th annual Customers’ Choice Community Grants Program reflect an awareness of the crisis.
Last year, only 10% of Florence Bank customers cast votes for organizations that ease food insecurity. This year, twice as many votes were cast for the cause, perhaps because the bank itself committed to supporting organizations that focus on food insecurity at the start of the pandemic. Since March 2020, Florence Bank has donated $140,000 to help feed people who are hungry.
During its Customers’ Choice celebration on May 18 at Look Memorial Park, $21,528 of the $100,500 in grants that Florence Bank awarded to area nonprofits went to five organizations focused on feeding people. The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts Inc. and the Amherst and Northampton Survival Centers each received $5,000, Manna Community Kitchen in Northampton received $3,933, and Easthampton Community Center received $2,595.
“Certainly, we’ve seen the need for food assistance grow rapidly — the fastest it’s ever grown in less than a year,” said Andrew Morehouse, executive director of the Food Bank. “We need to be able to provide more healthy food to people who need it. We need more community support to be able to respond to that growing demand for food assistance.”
Lee Anderson, a board member for Manna Community Kitchen, said his organization has tripled in terms of the number of area residents for whom it is providing restaurant-quality meals. Manna is now providing 5,000 takeout meals each month at the Elm Street, Northampton location, and it launched deliveries, serving roughly 30 households at present.
“Our food costs have doubled, at least,” Anderson said. “The generosity from Florence Bank will go right to paying food bills.”
The community grants program is an annual offering founded in 2002; through it, Florence Bank customers are invited to vote for their favorite local nonprofit in hopes it will receive a share of grant funding.
To qualify for a community grant, organizations must receive at least 50 votes. In 2020, almost 7,000 votes were cast, and 32 nonprofit leaders accepted their grants Tuesday, when a total of $100,500 was awarded. That total included two ‘almost’ awards of $500 each to the Williamsburg Firefighters Assoc. and Whole Children of Hadley, which each came close to receiving 50 votes.
In addition to organizations supporting food insecurity, 25 other nonprofits with more than 50 votes accepted a check, putting Florence Bank over the $1.3 million mark in grants it has presented to community organizations over nearly two decades through the customers’ choice program alone.
“The commitment of Florence Bank customers to all of you serving the needs within our community is awesome, and we couldn’t be prouder to be able to support the programs our customers believe in,” Day said.
The following organizations received more than 50 customer votes and received an award at the event: Dakin Humane Society, Cancer Connection, Friends of Forbes Library, and Big Brothers Big Sisters of Hampshire County, $5,000 each; Our Lady of the Hills Parish, $4,837; Belchertown Animal Relief Committee Inc., $4,326; Friends of the Williamsburg Library, $3,815; J.F.K. Middle School, $3,303; Riverside Industries Inc. and Friends of Lilly Library, $3,146 each; It Takes a Village and Goshen Firefighters Assoc., $3,107 each; Edward Hopkins Educational Foundation, $2,989; Pioneer Valley Chinese Immersion Charter School, $2,556; Northampton Neighbors, $2,399; Hitchcock Center for the Environment, Granby Senior Center, and Friends of Northampton Legion Baseball, $2,281 each; Northampton Community Music Center and Community Action, $2,202 each; Friends of M.N. Spear Memorial Library, $2,084; Safe Passage, $2,005; R.K. Finn Ryan Road School, $1,966; and Historic Northampton and Belchertown K-9, $1,966 each.