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To many seasonal travelers, Martha’s Vineyard, with its multi-million dollar homes, picturesque shopping districts and pristine beaches, seems to be the epitome of a wealthy Island.

But a previously hidden scourge is emerging: growing food insecurity is exacerbated by record inflation and a global pandemic.

At the peak of summer, that meant 620 residents per week visiting the Island Food Pantry — a 52 percent increase from this point in 2021, according to pantry officials.

The fruit cart at Island Food Pantry.

—Jeanna Shepard

“Everyone thinks this is an Island of the rich and famous, but there’s a whole group of people there year-round who depend on the seasonal economy,” said Rebecca Haag, director of the Island Grown Initiative. “Most of those people are living on nine months’ wages and they have to extend it to 12 months. These are working families who can barely afford to come here.”

The juxtaposition is striking: Where the median home price is now more than $1.3 million, Dukes County’s per capita income is below the state average at just $43,994, according to 2020 U.S. Census Bureau data.

“The income here is not great, and once you get off that ferry, everything costs 20 percent more” on the Island, Ms. Haag said.

While many urban areas serve a large population of chronically poor residents, Ms. Haag described the anatomy of food insecurity on the Island as “people in need from time to time. These are working people who still can’t feed their children from time to time.”

According to Island Food Pantry Director of Equity Merrick Carreiro, one in three children attending Island public schools qualify for free and reduced price lunch. Add to that the islands’ growing over-65 population, who are increasingly homeless and dependent on a fixed income.

That’s nearly 3,000 registered residents at Island Food Pantry – twice as many people, says Ms Haag, as there were before the start of the pandemic. Over the course of the year, that equates to 1,259 pantry customers per month.

Volunteers Linda Shapiro and Susan Harlocker.

—Jeanna Shepard

The pantry, which currently leases space at the Portuguese American Club in Oak Bluffs, is open to the public three days a week, and the fourth morning is available to seniors only.

Allocated one visit per week, customers are accompanied by a volunteer through the neatly organized aisles as they fill their shopping baskets from a selection of prepared foods, frozen meats, grains, legumes and dairy, as well as personal hygiene items, baby formula and even. pet food.

Some items – such as formula – have limitations due to high demand and low supply.

The pantry, which merged with the IGI in 2017, is run by Sharon Brown. A longtime chef who moved to Martha’s Vineyard in 2018, Ms. Brown says she turned to supplemental meals to help feed her teenage son when COVID brought the restaurant industry to a standstill in 2020.

With an additional background in food services and social services, Brown added other aspects of community support to the pantry site, including a visiting nurse and substance abuse and alcohol counselors.

“We try to not only focus on food, but on the bigger picture,” Ms Brown said.

The pantry is just one part of IGI’s expanding network of services, including its long-term school garden and clean-up programs, a Mobile Market, food waste collection from local restaurants, and a network of borrowed commercial kitchens where chefs turn Island produce, meat collection. and seafood in frozen ready-made soups, stews and infant formulas.

Area farms, including Morning Glory, Gray Barn, and Slough Farm “go above and beyond” with donations of produce, bread and proteins, Ms. Carreiro said. The pantry is also given a weekly allotment from the Greater Boston Food Bank, although the quantity has decreased due to inflation in recent months, from 10,000 pounds of food per week to about 7,000.

The shelves at the pantry.

—Jeanna Shepard

During the school year, IGI prepares meals from the Camp Jabberwocky campus in Vineyard Haven. In the summer, the operation moves to Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School.

This summer, Mr. Carreiro said, the IGI is preparing 400 lunches a day, five days a week for summer students, hoping to deliver 12,000 meals over six weeks. Extras go to seniors in the area. A Community Supper Series is held every Wednesday through August 10 at Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School from 5 to 6 p.m.

An Education and Innovation Center and housing project are currently occupied, but Island Grown is in dire need of its own year-round commercial kitchen and increased storage space, such as the pantry lease at the P.A. The club runs out in early 2023, with an option to renew until 2024.

From now through September, the Vineyard Gazette will donate 15 per cent of all new subscriptions to the newspaper to the Island Food Pantry. To participate in this offer, visit vineyardgazettestore.com.

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