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How to Help Fight Food Insecurity and Support Restaurant Workers in Boston

Where to give, volunteer, donate food, and support local restaurant workers during the novel coronavirus pandemic

A woman in a mask and gloves sets out grocery bags of food on a plastic table.
Waltham School committee member Jane Gatley sets out bags of fruit for Waltham residents in April 2020. Healthy Waltham is one of many nonprofits working to address food insecurity during the pandemic.
Erin Clark/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

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One in seven Massachusetts residents — close to a million people — are projected to experience food insecurity in 2020, according to Feeding America, a national nonprofit network of over 200 food banks. It’s a significant increase from the pre-COVID projection of one in 11, or a little over 600,000 people. Jobless claims are finally dropping a bit in the state, but in June, the Massachusetts unemployment rate was the highest in the country. Food insecurity issues — prevalent before the pandemic but even worse now — are not going anywhere.

Dozens of local food-rescue organizations, food pantries, soup kitchens, and other groups addressing hunger are working in overdrive to meet the increased need, and there’s never been a more important time to donate time, money, and other resources to their efforts.

This guide highlights the efforts of over 30 neighborhood groups, nonprofit organizations, and fundraising campaigns working to address food insecurity in and around Boston — with details on how you can help.

This guide was first published on August 11, 2020; the date of the most recent update appears above.

A woman wearing a face mask takes a large shopping bag out of the trunk of her car
A volunteer affiliated with a mutual aid group in Brooklyn delivers food and other essentials. Like New York, Boston has seen a rise in mutual aid groups in recent months — many local neighborhoods, cities, and towns have their own groups of neighbors helping neighbors.
Stephanie Keith/Getty Images

Mutual Aid Groups

Mutual aid groups have been on the rise worldwide during the pandemic — essentially groups of neighbors helping neighbors, often organized via spreadsheets or social media channels. These grassroots-style groups facilitate local volunteerism, connecting those who have resources to offer with those who need help. Neighbors are collecting funds to buy groceries for those who can’t leave their homes; offering translation help and legal aid; fostering social connections — at a distance — with strangers who live around the corner; coordinating childcare and pet care; and much more.

Massachusetts Jobs With Justice has compiled a large directory of mutual aid networks throughout Massachusetts, as well as other helpful resources. Here are just a few of the active mutual aid groups in and around Boston, with local community fridges also included on this list:

Allston-Brighton Mutual Aid: This local mutual aid group covers Boston’s Allston and Brighton neighborhoods, helping community members coordinate to help each other with grocery deliveries, financial assistance, childcare, pet care, social services, companionship, and more. Monetary donations are accepted through various channels, and community members can volunteer to help with grocery delivery and other tasks. Email or call or text (617) 612-5059 for more information. Updates can be found in a Facebook group, via a newsletter, and on Twitter and Instagram. The group also holds frequent Zoom meetings.

Cambridge Mutual Aid Network: This local mutual aid group focuses on connecting Cambridge residents to assist each other with groceries and other needs, and the group maintains a website full of local resources and volunteer and donation opportunities. The group also collects money for a mutual aid fund to provide microgrants to neighbors in need. Plus, the group is working to help non-Cambridge residents, specifically people in Chelsea, with food and supply donations, driving and delivering groceries, and other services. Monetary donations can be made directly to the Chelsea Collaborative, and donations of grocery boxes for Chelsea families can be paid for via Cambridge restaurant Grendel’s Den. Email with any questions.

Dorchester Community Care: This local mutual aid group seeks to connect residents around Boston’s Dorchester neighborhood to help each other with financial and other needs. Donations are accepted via Paypal and Venmo, and more information about the group can be found in this Google document. Email with questions.

Dorchester Community Fridge: Community members are encouraged to “take what you need, leave what you can” at this community fridge in Boston’s Dorchester neighborhood (1471 Dorchester Ave.). Those interested in volunteering to help stock and monitor the fridge can sign up here or email for more information.

Everett Community Aid Network: This local mutual aid group connects people in the city of Everett who have needs or can meet the needs of others in terms of groceries and more. The group also maintains a list of Everett-based resources on its website. Email or call (617) 329-5309 with questions.

JP Community Fridge: Located outside of a barbershop in Boston’s Jamaica Plain neighborhood (366 Centre St.), this volunteer-run community fridge is stocked with produce and more for anyone who needs it. Follow along on Instagram for updates.

Malden Neighbors Helping Neighbors: This local mutual aid group helps Malden residents give and get assistance during the current crisis and beyond. Consult the website to offer or request help, donate, and find other resources, or call (781) 428-0789 with any questions.

Mission Hill Mutual Aid: This local mutual aid group connects residents of Boston’s Mission Hill neighborhood to help each other with goods and services needed during the pandemic. Join the Facebook group, consult the spreadsheet to see what resources neighbors are currently offering, or call (857) 255-9926 with questions.

Mutual Aid East Boston: This local mutual aid group helps residents of Boston’s East Boston neighborhood to give and receive various forms of help during the pandemic. Find more information on the group’s website, including how to sign up for your hyperlocal neighborhood pod, or email with questions.

Mutual Aid Jamaica Plain and Roxbury: This local mutual aid group focuses on two Boston neighborhoods, Jamaica Plain and Roxbury, connecting residents to give and receive aid during the pandemic. Consult this Google document for information, or email or call (617) 858-6238 with questions. Donations are being accepted via Venmo.

Mutual Aid Medford and Somerville: This local mutual aid group was one of the first to spring up in the region, and many other local groups have been following its template. This group helps neighbors in the adjacent cities of Medford and Somerville give and get assistance with groceries, transportation, childcare and pet care, emotional and spiritual support, and other needs during the pandemic. Those interested can also join specific working groups and hyperlocal neighborhood pods. Visit the website for more information, or email or call/text (339) 545-1315 with questions.

Restaurant Worker Mutual Aid of Greater Boston: Spearheaded by Cambridge restaurant industry workers Kaitlyn Sullivan and Alex Gladwell, this mutual aid group focuses on providing groceries to undocumented restaurant industry workers who lost their jobs due to the pandemic. The group accepts financial donations and volunteers to help sort, pack, and deliver groceries. Call (860) 304-0510 with questions.

Roslindale Community Fridge: This community-run fridge is located outside of the Roslindale Market at 4140 Washington St. There are volunteer opportunities open to those who would like to help monitor the fridge or provide other services; sign up and find more information here.

Keep an eye out for more community fridges in the following areas, coming soon: Allston, Somerville, Mattapan, Lynn, and Cambridge.

A woman standing at a loading dock passes a bag of food to a man below; he is about to load it into the back of a van full of boxes and bags of food
In this June 2015 photo, Sasha Purpura, right, the executive director of Food For Free, and Adam Collins, a driver with Food For Free, pick up food left over from Harvard University’s graduation events. The food rescue organization continues to operate during the pandemic, helping distribute groceries to low-income Cambridge residents, among other initiatives.
Dina Rudick/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Hunger Relief: Where to Donate and Volunteer

Boston-area food pantries, soup kitchens, food rescue groups, and other organizations are working in a variety of ways to address food insecurity in local communities. While some organizations have temporarily stopped accepting new volunteers during the pandemic, many are still accepting volunteers, and all accept monetary donations.

Below are a number of currently active local food-related organizations in and around Boston, with details on the work they do and how to volunteer and/or donate:

About Fresh: This Boston organization is best known for its Fresh Truck program, in which retrofitted school buses function as mobile markets, bringing fresh produce to the Boston neighborhoods that need it most. During the pandemic, About Fresh developed and is accepting donations in support of a program called Fresh Box, delivering food to the homes of those most impacted by the crisis. About Fresh accepts monetary donations online and is always seeking volunteers to deliver Fresh Boxes and run the Fresh Truck’s mobile market sites.

Action for Boston Community Development: Part of the Community Action Network, ABCD provides Boston-area low-income residents with tools and resources to transition from poverty to stability to success. During the pandemic, the organization is operating five food pantries across Boston. ABCD has a wide range of volunteering opportunities within food pantries and other programs, and the organization accepts monetary donations online.

American Red Cross of Massachusetts: The state’s branch of the Red Cross operates several food and nutrition programs, including a food pantry, mobile food markets, assistance with SNAP applications, and more. The organization accepts monetary donations and is always seeking volunteers for a variety of areas, including within the food and nutrition programs.

Boston Area Gleaners: This Boston-area food rescue organization harvests surplus crops at local farms and distributes the produce to area food banks, low-income markets, and meal programs. Donations — one-off or monthly — are accepted here. The organization is currently accepting new (and returning) volunteer gleaners, age 13 and up (those under 18 must be accompanied by a guardian.) Find out more about volunteering as a gleaner here. The organization is also looking for volunteers to collect banana boxes from local stores and deliver them to Boston Area Gleaners’ Waltham headquarters.

Boston Food Not Bombs: Now an international movement with hundreds of independent chapters, Food Not Bombs was founded in Boston in 1980 to protest war and poverty. These days, the local chapter is handing out meals to those in need on Saturdays around Cambridge and distributing free groceries on Wednesdays in Allston. The group accepts a variety of donations, including clean and warm clothing; vegan, shelf-stable food; disposable plates and cutlery; cash (accepted during meals); and more. Consult the website or email for more information about donating or volunteering; walk-in volunteers are not currently being accepted to keep numbers low during COVID.

Centre Street Food Pantry: This Newton-based food pantry serves Newton as well as several neighboring communities, currently helping over 100 families obtain fresh produce and other groceries weekly. Food donations and monetary donations are welcome, and there are volunteer opportunities available; sign up here. Tasks include packing grocery bags, setting up the pantry (which currently runs outdoors), and more.

Community Servings: Based in Boston’s Jamaica Plain neighborhood and founded in 1990, Community Servings aims to provide meal home delivery as well as nutrition services and education to locals living with critical and chronic illnesses. Donations are accepted online, with one-off, monthly, and other options. Community Servings is currently accepting individuals and small groups as volunteers for kitchen shifts.

Daily Table: With the mission of providing affordable food for everyone, Daily Table is a nonprofit community grocer, operating grocery stores in Boston’s neighborhoods of Dorchester and Roxbury. Daily Table partners with various suppliers, producers, and growers in order to obtain high-quality foods at the lowest possible prices. More stores are in the works. The organization accepts monetary donations but has temporarily suspended volunteering opportunities. Keep an eye on this page for future ways to volunteer; tasks include sorting produce, cooking, stocking retail shelves, and more.

Fair Foods: This food rescue organization distributes $2 bags of produce to low-income families throughout the Boston area. Monetary donations are accepted online, and the group is also seeking donations of trucks, goods, and various professional services; email or call (617) 288-6185 for more information. Fair Foods is always looking for volunteers to sort and distribute food, help with deliveries, and more.

Food for Free: This food rescue organization has been serving the Boston area since 1981 and operates a variety of programs, including grocery delivery to low-income Cambridge residents unable to access traditional food pantries and services to help local students access healthy food. Food for Free accepts monetary and food donations (food donations must be from licensed foodservice establishments, not individuals.) Volunteer opportunities include packing, delivering, and distributing food in Cambridge; fill out the form here to receive a weekly list of opportunities.

Food Link: Based in Arlington, Food Link aims to rescue and distribute nutritious food to low-income residents of the Arlington area. Food Link accepts monetary donations online and is also seeking donated cleaning supplies. The organization is still accepting new volunteers but notes that there are currently more volunteers than shifts.

The Food Project: This Concord-based organization hires teenagers who learn leadership and agricultural skills while cultivating the Food Project’s urban and suburban farms. Produce is distributed to various hunger relief organizations across the region. The organization accepts monetary donations via a variety of methods, including stock, corporate matching, shopping via Amazon Smile, and more. Fall 2020 volunteer opportunities have been canceled due to the pandemic, but interested individuals and groups can fill out a form to stay in the loop as decisions are made for 2021.

Gaining Ground: Another Concord-based organization, this nonprofit organic farm, with the help of community volunteers, donates all its food to area food pantries and meal programs. The organization accepts monetary donations online. Volunteer signup is currently closed due to the pandemic, but watch this page for updates.

Greater Boston Food Bank: New England’s largest hunger-relief organization works to distribute nutritious food to people in need throughout Eastern Massachusetts, ultimately aiming for a goal of three meals a day for everyone who needs it. The Greater Boston Food Bank accepts one-off and repeating monetary donations as well as stocks, legacy gifts, and more. While group volunteering is currently on hold, the organization is still welcoming individual volunteers to help with some its most critical current projects, typically involving sorting food and packing boxes.

Haley House: This Roxbury- and South End-based organization dates back to 1966. Nowadays, it operates a soup kitchen, food pantry, and quite a few other programs aimed at feeding the community. One program, Take Back the Kitchen, is aimed at promoting the joy and health benefits of scratch cooking. Donate money online (cash and checks are also accepted via mail to 23 Dartmouth St., Boston, MA 02116.) Haley House receives a large amount of volunteer requests; those interested should fill out the application but have patience. Volunteers may work within a variety of Haley House projects, such as cooking and serving in the Soup Kitchen; planting and weeding at the organization’s urban farming sites; cleaning up the neighborhood; and more.

Healthy Waltham: This Waltham-based organization operates a variety of programs to increase healthy food access, nutrition education, and opportunities for physical activities. During the pandemic, the organization is partnering with other local groups to run a food pantry. Donate online, via check, or via Amazon Smile purchasing, and contact the organization to inquire about occasional volunteering opportunities.

La Comunidad: This Everett-based organization aims to support the Latin-American residents of Everett and nearby communities. Through fundraising and partnerships with local restaurants including Mei Mei and Pagu, La Comunidad has been delivering groceries to families in need throughout the pandemic. The organization is accepting donations via Gofundme.

Lovin’ Spoonfuls: The Boston-based food rescue organization — which describes itself as the largest such organization in New England — puts on several high-profile fundraising events each year, supporting its mission of rescuing food and distributing it to local community organizations that need. The organization accepts monetary donations online. Lovin’ Spoonfuls cannot take volunteers for hands-on food rescue work but occasionally seeks volunteers for events and fundraising days, with opportunities announced via the email list. The best way to gain access to volunteer opportunities with Lovin’ Spoonfuls, though, is to join the Friends of Lovin’ Spoonfuls membership program.

The Open Door: Through a food pantry, a mobile free farmers market, free summer meals for children, and other programs, the Open Door helps feed those in need around Massachusetts’ North Shore region. The organization accepts donations of money, food, and more and regularly seeks volunteers in its food pantry and other programs.

Project Bread: Project Bread is probably best known for its gigantic annual fundraising walk, the Walk for Hunger, which has been going on since 1969. The organization aims to prevent and end hunger in Massachusetts by increasing food access to those currently in need while also trying to break the cycle of hunger via advocacy, education, and community action. There are various ways to donate monetarily, and potential volunteers should stay tuned for opportunities leading up to the 2021 Walk for Hunger. (The 2020 Walk for Hunger is taking place virtually instead of in person due to the pandemic.)

Rescuing Leftover Cuisine: The Massachusetts chapter of this food rescue organization collects excess food from Boston-area businesses and distributes it to organizations serving locals in need. Volunteers can help transport food from donor partners to shelters, soup kitchens, and other recipients; a car isn’t necessarily required. Donations are also accepted online or by mail, via Amazon Smile purchases, and via several other means.

A restaurant worker cleans up an outdoor dining area that has been ruined by a thunderstorm, with large umbrellas turned inside out and plates and cutlery spilled out along the ground.
Some local restaurants have reopened for indoor and/or outdoor dining — which poses difficulties, as pictured here as an employee at D’Parma in East Boston cleans up the patio after a downpour. Other restaurants are sticking with takeout and delivery or remaining closed entirely for the time being. Many local industry workers continue to be out of work or are risking their health to return.
Jessica Rinaldi/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Restaurant Worker Relief

When the pandemic got underway, many local restaurants set up online fundraisers or tip jars for their out-of-work staff. There are also some general fundraisers running to help local restaurant industry workers; several campaigns that are still active are listed below. (For a more extensive look at Massachusetts relief funds for workers in industries including but not limited to food and beverage, check the database that Massachusetts Jobs With Justice has compiled here.)

Behind You: Focusing on communities in Massachusetts’ North Shore region, Behind You provides financial assistance to local food service employees who are out of work due to illness or injury. Donate here.

Boston Area COVID-19 Restaurant Emergency Fund: This Gofundme campaign is supporting hospitality workers in the Boston area who have seen a direct financial hit as a result of the pandemic.

Camberville Hospitality Fund: This Gofundme campaign, organized by local bartender Naomi Levy, is supporting hospitality workers in the Cambridge and Somerville area.

Help Boston Chinatown Businesses Reopen: This Gofundme campaign, a collaboration between nonprofit organizations the Boston Hurricanes athletic club and Chinatown Main Street, is raising money to purchase and distribute personal protective equipment to Chinatown businesses, including restaurants, to help with safe reopenings. Chinatown was the first Boston neighborhood to feel the effects of the pandemic back in February and has a long road to recovery.

MassUndocuFund: The fund provides COVID-19 relief to undocumented workers in Massachusetts. It was founded by the organizations Massachusetts Jobs With Justice, Matahari Women Workers’ Center, and One Fair Wage.

Restaurant Worker Mutual Aid of Greater Boston: As noted above in the mutual aid section, this group is distributing groceries to undocumented Boston-area restaurant industry workers who lost their jobs due to the pandemic. Financial donations and volunteer inquiries are welcome.

Support Downtown Lowell Bar & Restaurant Workers: This Gofundme campaign is supporting out-of-work kitchen staff, bartenders, and servers within Lowell.

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