EDITOR’S NOTE: This story is the second in a four-part series for the Beverly Citizen’s annual Gifts of Hope campaign.
A mother of three children ranging in age from 9 to 15, Simone* finds great relief in the Beverly Bootstraps Food Pantry.
“I don’t know how I’d survive without them, to be honest,” Simone said of Beverly Bootstraps, remembering when a friend of hers introduced her to the organization. “If I ever left Beverly, I would miss Bootstraps the most.”
That’s because Simone is able to find wonderful, fresh produce to make her whole family meals from scratch without breaking the bank at the local grocery store.
Staples like cereal, milk and eggs, which her kids often devour, are some of the things Simone makes sure to get at the food pantry every other week. For her, one of the best parts about coming to Bootstraps is knowing she can pick out things that she needs and that her children will actually eat.
“You’re not just having a bag of food handed to you,” Simone explained, adding the Thanksgiving meal package she received a couple weeks ago works the same way. “I’m able to take what I need, and if I don’t need it, somebody else can use it.”
And Simone has loved everything about the experience she has had over the past three years since signing up for assistance.
“The location is nice and the people are always lovely,” she said. “Bootstraps never makes you feel like you’re begging. They’re always very welcoming.”
Simone said she also makes sure to hit Bootstraps’ mobile market when it makes stops near her residence.
“It’s so convenient,” she said. “They come right to you. You don’t have to worry about finding parking or anything like that.”
In addition to food pantry visits and the mobile market, Simone said her kids have also taken part in Bootstraps’ summer and weekend food programs, which make sure school-aged children have meals and healthy snacks when school is not in session and access to the free and reduced lunch programs are limited.
Overall, Stephanie Tyler Smith, Beverly Bootstraps’ food assistance coordinator, said she has noticed the number of people coming to the food pantry, as well as making return visits, has increased in recent years.
“Our client retention rate is higher,” she said. “That tells me that people who come here really need the help, and on a consistent basis. And they also feel comfortable coming here.”
It also helps that the food pantry is open every day, and offers a flexible schedule for those who work multiple jobs or have a family to take care of at home.
“We’re so glad we can be here for people who have a lot of kids,” said Tyler Smith. “They’re our key demographic.”
Simone also takes advantage of several other Beverly Bootstraps programs, including the Adopt-A-Family holiday gift giving and adult education, through which she hopes to gain her high school equivalency test (HiSET) certification.
Like many who find help at Bootstraps, Simone said she would like to eventually pay them back for all the help the organization has given her.
“If I ever hit the lottery, I’m going to give a big chunk of it back to Beverly Bootstraps, so that they can continue expanding their programming,” she said. “I definitely want to do something for all they’ve done for me.”
* Names in this article have been changed.