First Parish in Needham Logo

23 Dedham Avenue
Needham, MA 02492


by Ellen Fine
(for the Community Equitability Group, formed by mostly First Parish
folks as a response to Covid-19)

ResiliencyGardenFlyerFH 2

Resiliency is about Re-sourcing,
Re-imagining, Re-creating and
Re-Inhabiting when Life’s adversities greet us.

Growing Food for Resiliency, Health and Food Security. ..

Empowering People, Building Community & Respecting the Land…

Since the coronavirus hit these shores, a small group of mostly First Parish folks met weekly by phone to discuss our struggles with food and economic insecurity and other issues of economic injustice.

We call ourselves the Community Equitability Group and work to create economic, environmental and racial-ethnic justice which are often tied to economic inequities.

Our focus: Food Justice and Security and Health, Mental Health and Spiritual and other forms of community, Tech Access, Healing of Deep Racial-Ethnic, Religious Prejudice through Land Healing.

Our first project is the Resiliency Gardens. This is a response to Covid-19, food justice, insecurity and sovereignty…


A Little of the Back Story:

Covid-19 glaringly lit up the health, racial-ethnic and economic inequalities of the American system, 100,000 dead with a projected 200,000 by fall. Who died; mostly seniors in long term care, black and brown people who have dealt with centuries of health and economic inequality. Sadly, some of the origins of that system were perpetuated at First Parish in our slavery founding. We are working diligently to repair.

In 2020, if you were an essential hourly wage earner- think CNA’s, nursing home and long term care staff, custodial and maintenance workers, transportation workers and the blessed folks who work in grocery stores and food service. If you are one of these people we deeply thank you and honor that you were putting your life at-risk for your hourly wage!

Imagine offering ER physicians $2 an hour hazard pay as Amazon and Whole Foods did to risk being infected by hundreds of people, daily…

Many organizations and institutions right here in Needham failed those of us dealing with financial insecurity. We fully understand that they were overworked, working at a distance and under-volunteered.

But after 3 months we figured we would get a return call or email from several departments at the Needham schools. We reached out to them for extra tablets/chrome books for people dealing with financial insecurity and low tech, including seniors.

We made several efforts with the Food Pantry and Health Dept. One of our members experienced such rudeness and othering at the Needham Food Pantry, that they now go to Newton instead. Others with food allergies were receiving inadequate food or food that made them sick, vegetarians after several requests were still receiving mostly meat products.

Eventually the food pantry adopted a weaker version of our survey on food choice with no section queries on food allergies, medical diet or ethical and religious food choice. Incidentally, some of our members never received the food survey, either. The pantry eventually improved with produce from Katsouribos Brothers, however they were not open to meeting with members of our group.

However, several organizations and agencies have really stepped up, particularly, The Center at the Heights with daily check ins, class offerings, newsletters, meal delivery to seniors thru Springwell. Latanya Steele and the CATH staff have also worked with Trader Joe’s and the Council on Aging to do a weekly food bag. At $20, it’s a bargain for ground meat or turkey, a bag of spinach, Marinara, fruit, snacks, peanut butter, bread, eggs, milk and a boxed soup.

During the intensity of the first part of the Coronovirus Crisis, there was an angel First Parish food gift card donor through Riche’s/ Sudbury Farms. Susanna as usual aptly handled the details. Some of the Community Equitability Group members benefitted from this kindness. Two words: grateful and appreciation.

The always amazing Needham Community Farm and the ever helpful farm manager, Theresa, instituted the Mobile Market a few years ago. The Market goes to Linden Chambers on Tuesdays and Seabeds- Captain Robert Cook on Fridays. Fantastic fresh produce from bok choy to cilantro to delicious cherry tomatoes still greet us several months of the year. They have upped growing and production of their delicious produce and are helping us with seedlings and material support for our Resiliency Gardens. Always, kudos to Debbie Schmill for all her work in founding this Needham treasure.

Another way for people dealing with food insecurity is to use their SNAP cards and HIP (Healthy Incentives Program). To his credit, when Covid hit, Gov. Baker funded the program year round rather than the 8-9 months previous. When you buy fresh fruit and veggies at a MASS Farmer’s Market or farm stand with a SNAP CARD, family of 1, $40 free produce, 2-3, $60, 4 or more $80. Two stands at the NFM do HIP, many do SNAP.

Another group in town reached out for a grant and partnered with USDA and the schools. Every week there is a fresh produce pick up at Newman. Two weeks ago in 90 degree heat, there were nearly 200 cars waiting for food. In one of the ten wealthiest towns in Massachusetts, this should tell you something about the state of the economy and food insecurity.

These are Amazing and Wonderful Food Programs. As well is the effort by MDAR, local and state wide food hubs and distribution of food.

However, as the first wave of the virus re-intensifies, the Community Equitability Group is inviting folks to reflect and really think about the fragility of our food supply, how safe will we feel going to stores?

What happens, as one First Parish volunteer shopper found when on a search for ANY frozen fruit at Sudbury Farms, all he found was 3-4 bags of organic frozen blueberries. Luckily the person he was shopping for likes blueberries. Did we ever imagine in our bountiful supermarkets that almost all frozen fruit would be sold out?

What happens when there is another outbreak amongst meat slaughter houses and packers who are being forced to work while sick or untested in deplorable and unhealthful conditions? What happens when undocumented California, Texas and Southern black and brown farm workers who are treated poorly, exposed to virus and pesticide, a very toxic combination to lung and immune system?

What happens when our own New England temporary farm workers, many from Jamaica, other countries in Central America and the Caribbean can’t get here or get sick without health care?

Right now, our local New England farmers are doing well, food drops and farm stands and food hubs are kickin’it! Most are available to SNAP/WIC recipients. There is a brilliant system created by Mycoterra Farms for East Mass food delivery. There’s the Newton Community Farm, The Neighborhood Farm, The Medway Community Farm, MacArthur’s, Volante’s…

Let’s not forget about our bee keepers…

Here is one more step in food security, food resiliency web, Resiliency Gardens. Our goal is for personal and familial resiliency, food growing, connection to the land.

Part of the program is online/phone classes, Guerilla gardening, Permaculture, growing medicinal herbs, chicken soup gardens with a Farmer-Rabbi… Any my favorite, Voices of the Ancestors- telling the stories of our cultural food ways and healing the land when farmer-gardeners speak.

This last class will feature the imaginings and historical research on gardens that people who were enslaved tended like Homer, Phoebe, Sylvia who lived here in Needham. Also, Three Sisters of the Natick Praying Indians – Massachuset.
We have been given an extra seed donation who is promoting our outreach to gardener-farmers in the BIPOC Community.

Green Needham generously donated the bulk of our seeds, Needham Community Farm is offering seedlings and lots of support. Some very kind First Parish members have also generously donated through anonymous donations and Green Congregation and Healthy Yards Needham is helping out and Needham Housing has been a partner in logistics, support.

We already have 20 families signed up and the raised beds will be delivered in a few days. Seeds, tools, garden gloves will be distributed in a flower pot gift package by a few youth who, once again, are part of the First Parish Community.

We could use a few more volunteers, preferably someone with a truck, van or SUV to help with the garden beds delivery.

And as always, with a small group, we would greatly appreciate financial donations.

Please see our flyer and if you are interested in a Resiliency Garden for your family or to contribute support for a family facing food insecurity, we would greatly appreciate it.

If the choice is financial support, we are grateful as we are for all support. Checks may be made out to:

Community Equitability Group.

They may be deposited directly in the Community Equitability Account at Brookline Bank, Needham (next to Starbucks)

or mailed to the church.

Thank you for all that you inspire us to do as a church community.

With appreciation,

Ellen Fine
for Community Equitability Group