Food pantries report 85% increase in demand in the past 18 months. How to help

Jesse Collings | The MetroWest Daily News

FRAMINGHAM — Demand for food is up more than 85% from 18 months ago, according to one local pantry, as the region continues to grapple with higher-than-normal inflation, an increasing number of homeless residents and the high costs of housing.

Paul Mina, president of the United Way of Tri-County, which runs the Pearl Street Cupboard & Cafe at Park in Framingham, as well as the Marlborough Community Cupboard, reports that food being distributed at the two pantries is up 85.6% from a year ago, and that the organization is in significant need of additional donations to help keep up with the higher demand.


Volunteers bring groceries out to clients cars
Stephen Nicholson, left, a Sudbury resident who volunteers at the Pearl Street Cupboard & Cafe at Park in Framingham, brings in an empty cart as a client wheels out groceries, March 22, 2024. Paul Mina, president and CEO of the United Way of Tri-County, reports that in just the past 18 months, demand for food has increased by 85%. Daily News And Wicked Local Staff Photo/Art Illman


'Demand is way up':Area food pantries say high inflation is taking toll on families

Mina said increased demand for food has been consistent since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic four years ago. The United Way figured demand would revert to more historically normal levels as the impact of the pandemic subsided, but Mina said demand has instead increased further.

"We thought the numbers would go back down to relatively normal levels, so we were surprised when they continued to keep increasing at a rate that over the last 18 months, there's been an 85% increase and that is just ridiculous," Mina told the Daily News.


Joe Mina Director of the Pearl Street Cupboard & Café checks people in
Joe Mina checks people in at the Pearl Street Cupboard & Cafe at Park in Framingham, March 22, 2024. Mina is program director at the food pantry, which is run by the United Way of Tri-County. Daily News And Wicked Local Staff Photo/Art Illman


He said there are three main populations that the pantry is seeing in greater numbers.

The first group is comprised of "underemployed" residents — those who are working but do not earn enough to keep up with the rising cost of living in the area. Rising food costs have been a topic since the onset of the pandemic, with the the U.S. Department of Agriculture reporting that food prices increased 10% in 2022 and another 5.8% last year.

"We have people that go to work every day — they might even own a house — but they can't make ends meet at the end of every month, so food becomes something they can't afford," Mina said. "So they're coming here to our pantry and getting food. Some even come into our cupboard and get hot meals."

Homeless migrant population increases additional need

The next group, Mina said, are migrants, many of whom are staying in hotels or other forms of temporary emergency housing while seeking asylum in the United States. Both Marlborough and Framingham have sizable populations, and Mina said food pantries have been a resource that these populations have used to get by.

"That group has become much greater," Mina said. "They were using the cafe initially because they can get hot meals in Framingham. They can come in once a month and get a month's worth of food, so they can leave with 15, 20 bags of groceries for a family of four."


Suzy Fontano, a volunteer helps out at Pearl Street Cupboard
Suzy Fontano, a Framingham resident who volunteers at the Pearl Street Cupboard & Cafe at Park, bags frozen goods, March 22, 2024. Daily News And Wicked Local Staff Photo/Art Illman


But Mina said that often isn't enough.

"We don't have enough protein products all the time," he said. "We don't have enough shelf-stable products all the time. Many of these people are living in hotels, without kitchens. They are lucky if they have a microwave and a mini refrigerator. These folks really need prepared meals, because they don't have any other place to prepare food."

Chronic population also increasing

The final group Mina mentioned is one he says is chronically in need of food: the homeless population, substance abuse victims and those suffering from mental health issues. Mina said that in general, mental illness is one of the biggest drivers of food insecurity.

"If you subtract the mental illness factor from hunger and homelessness, the numbers would drop dramatically," he said. "The underlying problem with a lot of hunger issues is that the individuals are not mentally stable."

How residents can help address higher levels of food insecurity

The United Way is seeking donations from the public. Donations can be made on location at either the Pearl Street Cupboard & Cafe at Park, 46 Park St. in Framingham, or the Marlborough Community Cupboard, 255 Main St. in Marlborough. They can also be made online at

While the United Way welcomes food donations, financial contributions are far more valuable to the pantry. Officials say this is because that by purchasing food through The Greater Boston Food Bank at discounted rates, a single dollar goes a lot further for the food pantry than for a typical shopper.


Volunteer Matt Neal prepares groceries at Pearl Street Cupboard
Volunteer Matt Neal prepares groceries at the Pearl Street Cupboard & Cafe at Park in Framingham, March 22, 2024. Wicked Local Staff Photo/Art Illman


In addition for the need for food, The United Way is seeking additional volunteers to help work in the pantry and put together meal bags for clients.

"We need volunteers, Monday through Friday from 9 a.m to 2 p.m., we need them terribly," Mina said. "We need volunteers to help bring clients food out to their car, to bag food, moving things from the pallets and putting them on the shelves. We are just constantly re-stocking."

Those interested in volunteering can do so by visiting