“Reflecting On Our Experiences with the Local Election; Exploring Food & Economic Insecurity in Needham”

On Thursday, November 3rd, the Needham Resilience Network met in Powers Hall at the Needham Town Hall. A planned session on the dialogue skills of “calling in” and “repairing harm” was deferred, and instead the first part of the session was dedicated to active listening and reflection around a current event. Following this reflection, members continued with the planned exploration of food and economic insecurity and our local resources.    


Two of the foundational goals of the NRN, in service to the goal of community wellbeing are: 

  • to build genuine relationships between groups/individuals who otherwise may not have them, and 

  • to create a space for communication and understanding across difference 

A week prior to the midterm elections, the NRN received numerous calls from residents expressing concern over a current event. In response, space was created at the November meeting to reflect as a group. This reflection was framed as an exercise in perspective-sharing, to be followed by a ‘processing period’ in which members could clarify questions, reactions and assumptions to further explore in future sessions. 

Following a review of the NRN Communications Agreement, each participant was allotted one minute to share responses to the following questions: 

Q1: What did you think/feel when you heard about this event? 

Q2: How did this event impact the group/s you liaise to, if at all?
This weekend, network members will receive a confidential follow-up summarizing the perspectives shared, outlining the Network’s full process for structured dialogue, and discussing next steps. This process can be utilized in the future whenever a critical mass of residents reach out with concerns or fears related to community well-being. 


At previous meetings, and especially on the heels of Covid, NRN members expressed interest in exploring the issue of food and economic insecurity in Needham. 

As a community, many of us have had neighbors or friends or even personal experience with job and financial loss due to not being able to work, the weight of health expenses, or general stress.

One in eight Americans experience food insecurity, a lack of available financial resources for food at the household level, and a lack of consistent access for a healthy and active lifestyle. The food insecurity realm houses disparities across race, with 1 in 12 white individuals as compared to 1 in 5 Black, 1 in 6 Latino, and 1 in 4 Indigenous Americans falling into this category. 

As an extension of our health in Needham discussion in September, there are notable social determinants related to food insecurity, including economic hardship, housing, social disadvantage from structural racism, social isolation, and mental and physical health challenges. 

Stress-related increases in cortisol: 

  • lower immunity
  • decrease one’s body’s ability to absorb nutrition
  • impede focus
  • block the encoding process that enables learning (“cortisol flooding”) 
  • hinders job performance, and 
  • can lead to increased social isolation and shame

In addition, scarcity mindsets cause challenges for parents in their ability to be present. This interferes with synchrony between parent and child, and can lead to emotional dysfunction and socio-emotional developmental challenges. 

Food Insecurity in Needham - Presented by Sandy Robinson 

The Needham Food Pantry belongs to the Food Justice movement, working “to ensure universal access to nutrition, affordable and culturally appropriate food for all.” Needham Community Council, which houses the Food Pantry, participates in addressing the structural roots of our food system, and attempting to correct the “injustices communities of color have faced.” 

This repair in Needham includes a focus on healthy food for all, accessibility of fresh foods, the reduction of barriers to use, and strong communications and outreach systems. The number of monthly food pantry visits has almost doubled from 2019 to 2022, and members of a wide range of racial and age groups access the pantry. 


Jenn Sheck-Kahn and Massiel Gallardo shared about their inspiring Lunch Equity Project, which offered community members the opportunity to donate free lunches. The funds raised were then reinvested dollars in the Community Council and Needham Community Farm.

A question was posed allowing NRN to learn about collaborative efforts between Needham Youth and Family Services as we see the intersection between food insecurity and mental health challenges.

The NRN celebrated the work of the Food Pantry and through discussion made a lot of individual connections aimed at promoting and connecting programs across the community.

A wealth of information about additional food equity-related projects were shared, including one man’s ability to raise $75,000 by collecting and redeeming bottles. Within this discussion came good examples of ‘CALLING IN’, including an equity-related marketing suggestion for all of us about using photos of people utilizing specific community programs.


The large group considered the following questions:

  • Do you know anyone who experiences (or has experienced) economic and/or food insecurity in Needham in recent years? If so, what was their situation?

  • Is there a time when you were given assistance in a way that preserved your dignity OR in contrast made you feel othered? 

  • How can we as local groups and as a Network help to increase awareness of the NCC’s food pantry and make it more accessible and comfortable?

  • What do we know about the people most likely to face food insecurity in Needham? Do we need to monitor demographics related to food and/or economic insecurity in Needham? If so, given sensitivity to dignity/privacy, how?)

The last question emerges in every realm of Needham life as we seek information on the relative percentage discrepancies across race in healthcare, food insecurity, housing, and town and school experiences. The Network will continue to imagine ways of supporting this collection of data.  

The group share-out also focused on the second question. Experiences of being offered/witnessing the provision of assistance in a manner which preserved dignity included:

  • "Sense of belonging created through the NCC and food pantry, receiving styling advice and clothing, and invitations to participate in activities." 

  • "The sense of ease with which food stamps switched over to cards in our local community." 

  • "How Needham schools provide anonymity and normalcy through their meal programs."

  • "Activities offered in the NCC building, normalizing the experiences of all assistance and participation."

  • "The NCC staff making interactions there ones of dignity and joy."

RELATED NEXT STEPS                                             

December’s topic is HOUSING AND PUBLIC HEALTH in Needham. Please make your sub-network aware of this upcoming discussion and come prepared to share stories and data related to it on December 1st. 



Sherri Sklarwitz, liaison to the Needham LGBTQ+ community, presented both fun, community-building (i.e., pride pizza) and advocacy events. Student activists have and continue to lead rallies and workshops, including a recent Needham Diversity Initiative workshop on supporting transgender friends and family. The importance of sensitive language (in forms, messaging, news) was highlighted, along with the welcoming opportunities of certain communications and everyday practices like supportive lawn signs and introducing oneself with pronouns to invite/normalize a variety of identities.


Rinaz Mala introduced the task force, a non-partisan, non-denominational 501(c)(3) that engages in a variety of activities to support immigrants and immigrant justice. Activities include legislative advocacy, education of immigrant families and of others on the experiences of immigrants, and cross-cultural celebration.

The task force partners with a large group of organizations including MIRA (Massachusetts Immigrant & Refugee Advocacy Coalition), IINE (International Institute of New England), Metrowest Immigrant Solidarity Network, and Metrowest Worker Center. Information can be found at www.immigrationneedham.org and all are welcome to join ZOOM meetings on the second Monday of each month.

The 1st Needham Multicultural Festival will take place in Powers Hall on Sunday, March 26, 2023. Stay tuned for more information!


In the next few weeks liaisons will: 

  • Continue to collect stories and reflections on lived experiences in Needham, with this coming month focusing on experiences around housing 

  • Witness and be ambassadors for our ‘coming out’ via social media, the NRN Website and a press release via local news

  • Share in the creative process of developing an NRN informational video 


What We Are Reading/Watching/Listening to:

  • Read Massachusetts Must Act Now on the Threat of White Supremacy. Massachusetts, like much of the rest of the United States, has seen a spike in white supremacist and other extremist group activities. This Boston Globe article explores concerns that the United States is in the early stages of a cycle of escalating violence akin to other insurgencies, with Boston as a key extremist hub.

  • Read Moving Beyond the Scarcity Mindset. In her new book, Reinventing Food Banks and Pantries: New Tools to End Hunger, Katie Martin, executive director of the Foodshare Institute for Hunger Research & Solutions, calls for a shift in how practitioners talk about hunger and food insecurity. In this article, Martin writes about how the language nonprofits and service providers employ can, if used carelessly, reinforce rather than mitigate the problems they are seeking to address.

  • Watch Joe Bubman, Executive Director of Urban Rural Action. This short video describes the work of Urban Rural Action and highlights the experience of folks in Maryland coming together from different ideological perspectives to tackle issues of immigration, economic development, and inclusion with practical local solutions for their state. 

  • Watch Faith and Polarization. Vice President for Programs at One America Movement, Chandra DeNap Whetstine gave an inspiring talk at Stand Together’s Catalyst Summit describing their approach to combating toxic polarization, working with faith communities across the U.S.

Beth & Nichole (NRN Co-Directors)