South Church released statistics on food insecurity as a follow-up to last week’s panel discussion showing more than 2,000 Andover residents unknowingly qualify for SNAP, the federal government’s food assistance program.

“When do we as a community respond to the needs of our neighbors who cannot access adequate food resources to support a healthy lifestyle?” the church said in its post.

The church dedicated its monthly mission last November to closing the “SNAP gap” in Andover. Statistics from the church show 1,693 Andover residents currently use SNAP, up 240 percent since the start of the coronavirus pandemic and 30 percent between July 2021 and July 2022. Additionally, nearly one-in-five school age children in Andover are food insecure.

Project Bread’s Website can help you figure out if you qualify for food assistance.

“Andover does not address food insecurity as well as the other communities in the general area,” Ellen Townsend of the Regional Food Resiliency Partnership and a founding board member of Andover Farmers Market, said at last week’s panel discussion at the church. “It was really shocking to me when I started (with the Andover’s Farmers Market)…It led me to realize Andover needed some outreach and that we had a large population that is food insecure.”

Jennifer Lemmerman, an Andover resident who serves as vice president of policy for Project Bread, said the problem in Andover is compounded by the stigma of food insecurity in a relatively affluent community.

“People can be just above threshold of what government considers in need of services. When household budgets are tight, food is the first thing that gets cut. You can’t skip your house payment, but you can skip lunch,” Lemmerman said. “In Andover, stigma and perception are massive challenges. People just don’t understand…they assume that doesn’t happen here to the degree that it does in other communities.”

Townsend said the problem is getting worse. The Merrimack Valley YMCA’s mobile food pantry, for example, recently had to cancel its Methuen drop off because of a shortage of food the YMCA receives from the Boston Food Bank.

How To Help, Where To Get Help

“This is a fight we can win,” Melendez said. “I want to put myself out of work.”

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