Author Chris Perry is a contributing writer for Nantucket Current
I don’t know how some people are going to make it...
I have to be honest. I haven’t been paying much attention lately. Don’t really have a good excuse but that changed after I popped into Stop & Shop recently to grab a few things after being off island for a couple of days.
“A few things” amounted to two bags of groceries: eggs, milk, bread, chicken - OK, some Something Natural chocolate chip cookies - but nothing special.
While driving home, I made the mistake of asking: “Out of curiosity, how much was it?”
My wife responded: “$125.00”
That’s when I almost drove directly into Holdgate’s Laundry.
One hundred and twenty-five dollars for basically nothing. No meat or fish from Cowboys - no cold cuts from Bartlett’s - no hand-packed ice cream from the Juice Bar. We are talking about two bags of groceries from Stop & Shop for $125.00.
Let’s start with eggs at almost $1. each; milk at $6 per gallon; chicken at $9.50 per pound; toothpaste for $10 a tube.
For those of you who routinely handle the shopping - especially during the summer months - I have a renewed sense of appreciation for you. Sticker shock use to be associated with buying cars or purchasing a house on Hulbert Ave. Not any more. Across the board, sticker shock on Nantucket is now a daily event that everyone must face but not everyone can afford.
After driving home, I just couldn’t get “$125” out of my mind. All I could think about was the typical, average household family on Nantucket trying to satisfy the three basic necessities heading into the winter months: food - shelter - heat.
Food: On Nantucket, how does your average family of a mom and dad plus 2.3 kids and a dog feed themselves and not run in the red? Does one budget $500 per week for food...$750... $1,000 because your high school aged kids are ravenous and eat four times a day plus once more after practice?
Shelter: As we all know, it is virtually impossible for a local family to raise their kids on the island and then hope to see them stay and buy a house. For those who rent, let’s just say it is easier to find “Underground Tom” than it is to secure an affordable rental. With a two-bedroom, two-bath house renting for $5,000-plus per month, it is simply not practical.
Heat: Electricity is up 60 percent statewide since last year. Oil is $6.85 a gallon. Gas to heat your house is $4.60 a gallon. As one delivery driver told me earlier this week, “All summer long, I delivered 500 gallons of gas at a shot to summer houses all over the island sometimes twice a month primarily to heat their pools. Now, I am responding to locals to add just enough fuel to get them by for the next 30 days.....”
It’s coming. Food - shelter - heat... How does the average person financially survive the winter?
Locals are in transition. We are recharging our batteries after a hectic summer season. The kids are back in school. The glorious fall is upon us and the full moon that recently passed by has us mesmerized into thinking that we will weather the storm and survive until next spring. But how? I don’t care how much a teacher makes or a delivery person takes in. It is financially impossible and the math does not add up.
So, what’s going to happen to the heart and soul of Nantucket with limited options?
Some people will try and tighten their belts - cut expenses - and figure out a way to survive.
Some people will see the hand writing on the wall and pack up and leave.
Some people will refuse to admit the obvious and stubbornly make a bad situation worse.
But for many - more than most people on Nantucket would like to think - hundreds of people will turn to Nantucket Food, Fuel, & Rental Assistance Program in an effort to survive.
The numbers don’t lie.
“It has been overwhelming lately and it’s not even cold yet”, said assistant executive director Tom Dixon. “Typically, we process about 60 to 80 orders a day via the Food Pantry on Washington Street. Last Tuesday, we did just over 100.”
The Food Pantry is one option available to struggling islanders. Its goal is to compassionately and confidentially “help those whose incomes are not always sufficient enough to survive and cope with what seems like insurmountable challenges with short term assistance when it is needed most.”
That may be a mouthful, but it’s the truth.
As a service of Nantucket’s Interfaith Council and with the direct support of the Greater Boston Food Bank, the Pantry quietly goes about saving lives with the help of many volunteers and a dedicated staff. It’s a subject that no one really wants to talk about and even fewer want to admit that it even exists.
Wake up people: It does.
Senior citizens, a single father with a special needs child, divorced, temporarily unemployed, debilitating injury, significant illness, seasonal workers and colleagues are all candidates. “We need more space. We need more refrigeration and we need more options.” added Dixon. “It’s a vicious cycle and the dynamics are changing. These financial pressures are increasing for everyone on Nantucket. It’s our neighbors and friends.”
No one is immune to unexpected, life changing events; and when it seems like there is nowhere to turn, temporary help with Food - Shelter - Heat is right around the corner.
Food: Over 250,000 pounds of food has been distributed in over 16,000 grocery bags to thousands of community members already this fiscal year with roughly 10 percent being seniors, 30 percent being children and 60 percent being adults as the majority of them qualified with what is calculated as an “extremely low income of less that $41,000 for a family a four.”
Shelter: Funds are based on financial needs. Statistics show that the number of households assisted went up 700% from 2017 to 2021. Fourteen percent of those who received funds were elderly – 25 percent were single parent households and the average age of a recipient was 45.
Heat: Starting in 2014 and with the assistance of the William Hossier Trust grant, senior citizens received the largest share of the available funds. Roughly 80 percent went to cover fuel or electrical. Recently, the program was expanded to include water.
Despite the generosity, we should be worried as a community. Heading into the winter months, things do not bode well for those who struggle on Nantucket as the cost to survive increases. Add to that, 18 months of continuous inflation outpacing wages and I expect Janis, Tom, Yeshe Palmo, Jamie and company will see longer lines on Washington Street this winter.
Undoubtedly, I will be heading back to Stop & Shop again this week. But this time, I am not tipping the scale at $125. for two bags of groceries. I guarantee you - I can go without Bell & Evans chicken at $9.49 a pound or Brigham’s vanilla for $5.99 a quart or a loaf of Something Natural bread for $4.50 ( the cc cookies stay in the cart). There are better, less expensive and healthier alternatives available.
But more importantly, I need to wake up and remember the words of Benjamin Franklin who said: “A small leak will sink a great ship. Ere if you consult your fancy - consult your purse” because there are far too many on Nantucket shaving fuel for food and skipping rent for heat.