Thanks to the vision of staff members at Boston International Newcomers Academy (BINcA) on Maxwell Street in Dorchester, the school’s gym is now home to a small food pantry intended to battle food insecurity in families of students.
The idea for the pantry began to take shape in the mind of Lorenis Nova, the school’s family liaison, during the early stages of the Covid-19 pandemic last year.
The academy is made up of 100 percent immigrant students, many from families whose lives and incomes have been disrupted by the health crisis.
Nova said she began noticing the effects at the onset of the pandemic. “The need has grown exponentially since March 2020,” she said, noting, “We saw the need then, and we still see the need now.”
While performing countless hours of check-ins with families in those early months, Nova recognized that one problem nearly every family was facing was food insecurity. Students not having school as a needed everyday source for lunch and snacks was translating to greater burdens on families.
Nova and fellow staffers put together a food drive last November and delivered care packages to 500 families struggling to put food on the table. The excess food from that drive was used to begin the food pantry, which officially opened on Feb. 11.
The extensive process to clean out, repaint, and repurpose an old gym locker room took about a month, with student leaders, families, and staff pitching in. The space was the only room big enough, and with easy enough access —basement level and adjacent to a driveway in back— to accommodate the pantry.
“They totally transformed the way it looked,” said Nova of the team of volunteers.
Meanwhile, teachers and staff members began referring families they knew to be eligible for food assistance, after which other families slowly began thinking about the idea, said Nova.
“Some families are very proud and are reluctant to accept help...but here at BINcA we want to give love, compassion, and humility. We don’t care how long it takes.”
The pantry is operating and accepting donations each weekday except for Wednesday, and is running on a bi-weekly distribution schedule: Every other Thursday from 3-5 p.m.. It completed its second round of food distribution last Thursday.
Nova credited the school’s principal, Tony King, and coordinator Toni Jackson for supporting the endeavor, as well as her colleague Yaritza Sanchez for helping to see her vision through.
“At the moment the pantry is for BINcA families only. It’s still really small, but we hope to grow it enough to be able to support an entire community,” said Nova. “My biggest dream is to eventually partner with Greater Boston Food Bank to get support from them, get families registered in the system, and make it a long-term goal.”
The BINcA Food Pantry is accepting donations of food items on-site at 100 Maxwell St., as well as donations through Cashapp ($PantryNova) and checks made out to Boston International Newcomers Academy, with attention to the food pantry. For more information, contact email@example.com.