Hear How Watertown is Tackling the Growing Problem of Hunger at a Live Roundtable Discussion

After the ceiling collapsed in the church that hosts the Watertown Food Pantry, pickup was moved outside for several weeks. (Photo by Kathy Cunningham)

A lack of food has long been a problem for some Watertown residents, but the number of people worried about going hungry increased during the Pandemic and the numbers have only declined slightly in the past few years. On Feb. 12, Watertown News and Watertown Cable Access Television will host a live discussion with some of the people working on the problem of food insecurity in town. The Watertown Food Pantry has seen the number of families served each week double from pre- to post-pandemic.

Hunger in Watertown Will be the Focus of Live Roundtable Discussion

Food on the shelfs at the Watertown Food Pantry, which has seen an increase in the number of people using its services since the start of the Pandemic. (Photo by Charlie Breitrose)

A series of articles in Watertown News put a spotlight on a problem that often goes unseen in the community: hunger. The discussion will continue with a live event, where Watertown Cable Access Television will debut a video about food insecurity in town. WHAT: Monday, February 12, Watertown Cable Access TV and Watertown News will hold a live round table about the state of hunger and food insecurity in our community at 6 p.m. on the main stage Mosesian Center for the Arts

WHO: Panelists will include Watertown Community Foundation Executive Director Tia Tilson, Watertown Food Pantry Coordinator Kathy Cunningham, the City of Watertown’s Community Wellness Program Manager Stephanie Venizelos, Watertown Housing Authority Executive Director Michael Lara, and Watertown Social Services Resource Specialist Sophia Suarez-Friedman from the Wayside Multi-Service Center. HOSTS: Moderated by Charlie Breitrose of Watertown News and journalist Maya Shwayder.

Food Insecurity in Watertown: Hunger is a Multi-Faceted Problem — It Won’t Magically Go Away

The Watertown Food Pantry set up outside the United Methodist Church while its facility was being repaired. (Photo by Kathy Cunningham)

For the last several weeks, Watertown News, in conjunction with Watertown Cable Access Television, published six stories in a series called “Watertown’s Hidden Problem: Food Insecurity Among Us.” (See part one here). In the course of reporting these stories on food and hunger in our community, one absolute fact has emerged: how indelibly intertwined the problem of food insecurity is with other challenges. Food is too expensive. If you can afford food, it might only be cheap, low-nutrient food.

Filling the Watertown’s Free Fridge is a Community Effort

Volunteer Sue Twombly stocks the Watertown Community Fridge with items they picked up at the Cambridge Community Center. (Photo by Charlie Breitrose)

Each Friday, Will and Sue Twombly drive to Cambridge and fill up their car with vegetables, fruit, bread, and other items and bring them back to Watertown. The food is bound for one of the newest resources for people struggling to afford to eat: the Watertown Community Fridge. The Fridge is a free resource, located outside the United Methodist Church at 80 Mt. Auburn St., that is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Through Pandemics & Collapsed Ceilings, the Watertown Food Pantry Stays Open

Food on the shelfs at the Watertown Food Pantry, which has seen an increase in the number of people using its services since the start of the Pandemic. (Photo by Charlie Breitrose)

With her pert Boston accent and indefatigable can-do attitude, Kathleen Cunningham welcomes visitors into the basement of the Belmont-Watertown United Methodist Church. It’s a big open space, with low ceilings, pink walls, some generous storage space and an older industrial kitchen. It’s also very obviously crumbling. Construction tape blocks off part of the kitchen.

Hunger in Watertown: Task Force Tackles Social Needs, Tries to Fills Gaps Left by State, Local Programs

Jan Singer, left, the former Executive Director of the Watertown Community Foundation, discussed how the Foundation responded to food insecurity during the Pandemic with journalists Maya Shwayder and Charlie Breitrose. (Photo by Dan Hogan / WCA-TV)

As the numbers of people facing a scarcity of food, worried about losing their home, or paying for utilities rose at the start of the Pandemic, a group of people in Watertown was gathered to bring together their knowledge of how to serve those in need. The task force continues to meet regularly, and tries to figure out ways to fill the gaps and patch the cracks in the local, state, and federal social services programs.

This story is the third in a series by Watertown News, in conjunction with Watertown Cable Access Television, called “Watertown’s Hidden Problem: Food Insecurity Among Us.” (See part one here). The Task Force

Jan Singer, who was executive director of the Watertown Community Foundation when COVID-19 hit, said the Community Resilience Task Force came about when the Foundation got a grant from the Massachusetts COVID-19 Relief Fund aimed at providing assistance in key areas such as housing, childcare, and food security. Singer and members of the Foundation board quickly realized that they needed to gather the experts to help them direct the funds where they were needed most.

Hunger Hits Home: A Watertown Teenager’s Struggle to Feed Herself

Shivani Sharma reaches into her refrigerator, which is more full than was when she was finishing high school. (Photo by Dan Hogan)

A glass of milk and a granola bar, eaten slowly; this is breakfast for 19-year-old Shivani Sharma. On this particular day it’s noon and she actually hasn’t eaten yet. It may not seem extraordinary, but for her, these days, it’s a big improvement in her situation over how she had to live at the end of high school. Sharma shared her story with Watertown News, in conjunction with Watertown Cable Access Television, as part of the series “Watertown’s Hidden Problem: Food Insecurity Among Us.”

Watertown’s Hidden Problem: Food Insecurity Among Us (First Part of a Series)

Food on the shelfs at the Watertown Food Pantry, which has seen an increase in the number of people using its services since the start of the Pandemic. (Photo by Charlie Breitrose)

For many, Watertown is a destination for food and eating, with dozens of restaurants, markets small and large, and a farmers market through the warmer months. However, a significant number of residents have trouble affording to feed themselves and their families. The hunger problem in Watertown is often not visible, but those who provide assistance and services to people in need have noticed a recent increase in the number of people in town facing food insecurity, spiking during the Pandemic. And, while the COVID cases have dropped, the numbers of people going to Watertown’s two food pantries, or needing help to put enough food on their table has remained at about the same level.