Opening Doors and Feeding Families

Fleeing from domestic violence about five years ago, Madeleine, 30, is a vivacious single mother who now lives with her 7-year old son, Jacob, in public housing. She is a skilled Certified Nursing Assistant and works two jobs between 47-52 hours a week. Despite her best efforts, her total income last year was about $24,000 and she and her son qualified for $50 of SNAP a month.

Jenny, a 51-year-old wife and mother of two teenagers, has difficulty making ends meet. After becoming ill, losing her teaching job of 20 years and their family home, she went from being the primary wage earner for her family making $70,000 to picking up minimum wage jobs at local drug stores. When Jenny works extra hours at time-and-a-half on Sundays her SNAP benefits drop from $400 a month to just $12.

Both Madeleine and Jenny are regular clients at The Open Door, an organization that aims to alleviate hunger by providing healthy food services to individuals and families in the North Shore and Cape Ann community. Like Madeleine and Jenny, The Open Door’s nearly 7,000 clients are classified as low-income, with 96 percent earning less than $30,000 a year.

Growing Community Needs

Since 1978, The Open Door has been committed to providing food to people in need who live in an area in Massachusetts where the demand for food assistance is growing exponentially. In nearly 40 years, their base has increased from feeding a few to feeding thousands through more than 13 different hunger-relief programs.

Serving 1 in 6 Gloucester residents, Julie LaFontaine, Executive Director of The Open Door explains that clients may be a fishing family struggling in the decline of the fishing industry, or immigrants beginning anew. Some are cycling through the pattern of poverty, or may be disabled or seniors living on fixed incomes. All are weathering economic difficulties, perhaps working multiple part-time jobs, or struggling with some sort of medical issue or trauma.

Last year alone, The Open Door experienced a 21 percent increase in food distribution and a 26 percent increase in the number of requests for food assistance. These new demands were met head-on by The Open Door programs and thousands of volunteers, which provided 1,165,968 meals (almost 1,400,000 pounds of food!).

An Innovative Approach to Hunger-relief

United Way has long supported The Open Door’s innovative approach to hunger-relief, which is much more complex than simply stocking cans of food on a shelf.

“The Open Door is grounded in community development and public health. Reaching well beyond the traditional parameters of basic need, The Open Door provides critical nutrition support for our most vulnerable neighbors,” says Julie.

By using practical strategies, such as the organization’s wrap-around food and service programs, people are directly connected to nutritious food through food pantries, mobile markets, farmer’s markets and more. The Open Door aims to advocate on behalf of those in need, and to engage others in the work of building food security. Receiving food resources through their programs means that many households are stabilized so that people don’t have to choose between paying the bills or buying healthy food.

Positive Results

Julie says that their clients’ needs vary by their ages and demographics. For instance, families tend to want to cook meals at home for their children and seniors prefer to congregate for meals where they can socialize.

By offering a variety of programs to meet the needs of their clients (e.g., traditional programs like food pantries, community meals, and holiday baskets, to more innovative programming like free farmers markets and youth culinary training), The Open Door is seeing positive results. Based on a recent survey from The Open Door, 76 percent of their clients say they are able to eat more family meals at home and 78 percent of seniors say The Open Door meal programs help them feel less lonely.

For Madeleine and Jenny, making ends meet is still a struggle, but Madeleine says she is grateful for all the programs that The Open Door has to offer. “I know we won’t have to miss a meal,” she says. “The Open Door Saved me.”

For more information about The Open Door programs, visit their website at