To help Newton families suffering from food insecurity and to support local businesses, the Rotary Club of Newton is involved with two projects—Newton Project Takeout and Nourishing Newton—which purchase meals from local restaurants and deliver food to Newton residents in need.
Newton Project Takeout collects donations to buy gift cards from locally owned restaurants and then distributes them to Newtonians in need, according to Martha Bixby, a coordinator of Newton Project Takeout.
Newton Neighbors Helping Neighbors (NNHN), a volunteer group, is partnering with the Rotary Club of Newton on the project. NNHN was started as a Facebook group by Shalini Tendulkar, a Newton resident and Tufts University professor.
“The purpose of NNHN is to support all those efforts and do what we can do to amplify what’s needed and how people can help during this time,” Bixby said. “So our goal is to continue that through this program.”
The creators of Newton Project Takeout were inspired by The Boston Globe’s Project Takeout, which encourages people to order takeout from locally owned restaurants throughout Boston. With the pandemic limiting indoor seating and winter hindering outdoor seating, Project Takeout encourages residents to order from local restaurants.
After reading an article in The Boston Globe about the initiative, Bruce Wilson, another coordinator of Newton Project Takeout, wondered how this program could be brought to Newton and expanded to support people facing food insecurity. Wilson reached out to Tendulkar’s NNHN group to help individuals and families struggling financially and to bring in customers for the local businesses.
Wilson said that when he pitched the program to NNHN, the group welcomed it enthusiastically.
“People donate money to buy a restaurant gift card, we purchase that gift card that helps the restaurant, and then we pass it on to a person with food insecurity,” Wilson said. “So it’s a two-for-one special.”
Susan Faccenda Peghiny, a Newton native and chair of the Rotary Club of Newton, said the club’s motto of “service above self” reflects its commitment to the community as an action-oriented, inclusive organization. In the past, the Rotary Club has collaborated with the Rossi Family Foundation and Feed the Fight Boston.
“Most of our work now is really food insecurity focused,” Peghiny said. “We collaborate with other organizations to act as their non-profit so that people can make tax deductible donations or get their companies to match [donations].”
Bixby said Newton Project Takeout utilized the NNHN Facebook group, which has over 4,000 members, to recruit volunteers and raise money. It also used the communication platform Slack to discuss the project.
Newton Project Takeout has received $1,200 in donations as of Feb. 27. The group delivered the first round of gift cards to around 30 families at Newton organizations, including the West Suburban YMCA and the Boys & Girls Club of Newton.
Restaurants interested in participating can register through a Google Form. Residents can make donations through The Rotary Club of Newton, which Peghiny said serves as the program’s 501(c)(3) non-profit entity, allowing donors to deduct a charitable donation from their taxes.
The Rotary Club of Newton is also partnering with the Newton-Needham Regional Chamber for a state-funded program called Nourishing Newton.
State Senator Cynthia Stone Creem proposed that $175,000 of the state’s budget be used to support restaurants and residents, allocating $75,000 to Newton restaurants, $60,000 to Brookline restaurants, and $40,000 to Wellesley restaurants, according to the chamber.
Restaurants will offer 50 meals priced at $15 each and the Rotary Club will coordinate pickup and delivery, according to the chamber. Restaurants interested in participating can submit an application form.
Nourishing Newton purchases food from locally owned restaurants and distributes meals to those in need. The program purchased and delivered 1,000 meals as of Wednesday, according to a statement from Newton-Needham Regional Chamber President Greg Reibman.
Similar to Newton Project Takeout, Peghiny said that Nourishing Newton’s goals are twofold—to provide financial support for independently owned restaurants in Newton and meals to those facing food insecurity.
Meals have been provided by Baramor, Moldova Restaurant, Sandwich Works, Walnut Grille, Judith’s Kitchen, LeDu Thai Eatery, Blue Ribbon BBQ, Johnny’s Luncheonette, Cafe Sol Azteca, and Anna’s Taqueria. Volunteers dropped off the meals at the Centre Street Food Pantry, Newton Food Pantry, the West Suburban YMCA, the Newton Senior Center, and the Arabic Baptist Church of Boston, according to Reibman.
“We’re trying to get as many meals delivered as fast as we can to help the restaurants,” Peghiny said. “And on the other side, families are really struggling right now.”
Nourishing Newton is expected to deliver almost 5,000 meals to families between the program’s launch on March 16 and the end of May, Peghiny said. It is in the process of recruiting volunteers for bulk deliveries from restaurants to local food pantries and identifying households that need help coordinating food deliveries to their homes.
Peghiny said that the two programs are interwoven through their volunteers and similar goals.
“It’s actually very nice and very encouraging to see that so many people are working so hard and working together,” Peghiny said. “It’s very collaborative, supportive, and it’s been a really wonderful experience.”
Featured Image Courtesy of Bruce Wilson