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A surging need for free food in the Greater Boston area, seems not to have reached Westford’s food pantry, yet. Licensed Social Worker Alison Christopher said the pantry’s numbers remain steady as always.
The numbers are about the same as last year’s but nothing else in this COVID infested world is. The pandemic virus has changed much, including societal norms that didn’t require face masks to be worn in retail outlets and other public places. Now there are social distancing visits that require friends to stay six feet apart in public, and isolation of those suspected or diagnosed as having the virus.
In June, 862 bags were distributed by the Westford Food Pantry — a typical amount, Christopher said. But something is different this year: a stimulus package sent to households across the country plunked $1,200 into most people’s bank accounts. And unemployment pay has been as high as $1,432 for some and will remain so through July 31st.
“When the situation with COVID -19 emergency arose in the state, I think we all were bracing ourselves for a lot of negative implications for people in the community and wondering how that was going to affect town services,” said Christopher, who is employed by the town to help residents with personal or financial issues. “And I think we’re still trying to evaluate how that’s all going to shake out over time.”
In May, Massachusetts added 250,000 jobs and succeeded in pushing down the 17.4 percent unemployment rate — the highest in the country — to 13.3 percent in July, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
“A lot of it is due to the fact that the state and the federal governments have put some safety nets into place,” Christopher said.
She deemed the extra money as “really helpful” and said everyone had been expecting more hardship cases than have turned out. It was a pleasant surprise for her, said Christopher
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance program (SNAP), once known as food stamps are also helping families to pay for food.
The Raft Program, standing for Residential Assistance for Families in Transition, was also instrumental in providing assistance during the COVID crisis. Finally, the eviction and foreclosure prevention which comes out of Community TeamWork in Lowell included emergency rental and mortgage assistance programs for people who were affected by COVID –19.
While all is well now, Christopher worries about the near future.
“We’ve been in a little bit of a protective bubble,” Christopher said. “I worry about what will happen moving forward, if we lose some of these protections.”