Fish for Families, food for thought
By John Pappalardo
“Fish for Families” is one of our many collaborations that makes me proud to head up the Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen’s Alliance.
Since 2013, partnering with the Harwich Food Pantry and other members of the Cape Cod Hunger Network, working with local fishermen and a packaging business in New Bedford, we’ve been able to offer just about 50,000 pounds of locally caught seafood to families in need. That translates into something like 130,000 meals.
Every pound of this great protein source is landed by Cape Cod fishermen. Monkfish, skate, mackerel, cod, dogfish, haddock, pollock, butterfish, even scallop portions; the choices vary based on price and availability. Cut into fillets, packaged in small batches to make it easy for people to serve, quick frozen, it is distributed from Falmouth to Provincetown for food pantries and kitchens that serve those in need and crisis. Mobile vans deliver to housebound people. We offer simple recipes so people who might not have eaten much fresh-frozen fish (and might be cooking on a hot plate, without access to full kitchens or lots of ingredients) can still serve great tasty meals.
And now, with a $26,500 grant from Cape Cod Healthcare, we know that we can continue through 2019.
Cape Cod Healthcare is not alone in recognizing the value of Fish for Families. Over the years, multiple organizations have offered support, from the United Way and Kelley Foundation to the Davenport and Bilezikian family foundations and others. Cape Air has been a repeat backer; its CEO (and former state Senator) Dan Wolf has stopped by and helped us hand out fish. Private donors and quiet contributions come directly to us at the Fishermen’s Alliance to bolster our efforts.
What I’ve learned – unfortunately – is just how much need there is for better access to good, healthy food: Those who look hard at the local economy say that as many as 21,000 people on Cape Cod are “food insecure,” uncertain about whether they and their loved ones will have regular meals. That is one scary statistic that speaks to quiet poverty and even desperation lurking below our upscale surface. Given our seasonal economy, it is now, in the cold off-season, when the need is most acute.
I’ve also come to understand challenges the program has to overcome. For some families, fish is not a common meal, so kids might favor what they already like and know – hamburgers and chicken. Some people hale from Brazil or Jamaica, where mackerel might be well liked, often cooked with tomatoes and onions, but monkfish, skate or dogfish are not. At Thanksgiving there are turkeys to distribute, and not a lot of freezer space for other things, so better to wait until after the holidays for the next round.
Our partners, especially Christine Menard at the Harwich Food Pantry, have taught us how to be flexible. And when fishermen stop by the pantry on a distribution night to hand out fish, sharing stories with clients about where their meal comes from and how it’s caught, we also remember that our community is diverse, rich in cultures and experiences even when sometimes hard-pressed to make ends meet.
So here we are, into the seventh year of Fish for Families. I wish I could say the need has diminished, or even vanished, but that’s not the case. Our baseline goal for 2019 is to use Cape Cod Healthcare’s support to deliver 8,000 pounds of fish, four distributions of 2,000 pounds each; the first batch already has moved to a great response. If we can do more, we certainly will – I hope so.
Here’s a funny mathematical coincidence: That 8,000 pounds, divided into six-ounce servings, is about 21,000 meals, which just so happens to be the estimate of the number of people on Cape Cod who are “food insecure.”
So our part, compared to the need, is small. But we’re still proud to play it.
(John Pappalardo is CEO of the Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen’s Alliance)