Sep. 23—BEVERLY — In the mid-1980s, secretaries at First Baptist Church began setting aside food for people who showed up looking for help. That kind gesture eventually turned into Beverly Bootstraps, a nonprofit that began running a food pantry out of the church basement in 1992.
Bootstraps moved out of the basement long ago and has continued to expand its services over the years. On Saturday, the organization will celebrate its 30th anniversary with a free block party for the community from 1 to 5 p.m. at its headquarters at 35 Park St.
Bootstraps Executive Director Sue Gabriel said that while the organization has come a long way from its origins at First Baptist Church, "the soul is the same."
"We're in the business of helping each unique individual," Gabriel said. "No two stories are the same."
Bootstraps is known for its food pantry, which is open four days a week and can be visited by clients every seven days. The pantry had nearly 10,000 visits in fiscal year 2022, the most ever.
But Bootstraps doesn't just wait for people to come to them. It sets up mobile markets in neighborhoods throughout the city, makes deliveries to the Senior Center, and provides healthy snack bags for students who otherwise might not have enough to eat over weekends and school vacations.
While food assistance was its founding purpose, Bootstraps has expanded well beyond that mission. It has grown to a staff of 56 full- and part-timers who are aided by about 500 volunteers annually. The list of programs is long — adult education, tax preparation assistance, case management, holiday gifts, back-to-school backpacks.
Bootstraps also runs a thrift store that had nearly $1 million in sales in 2018, before a slowdown caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Bootstraps expanded its service area in 2007 to include Manchester-by-the-Sea. In 2018, it began a collaboration with Acord Food Pantry in Hamilton to provide on-site case management to residents of Essex, Hamilton, Wenham, Ipswich and Topsfield.
In all, Bootstraps assisted more than 4,300 people and more than 2,000 households in fiscal year 2022.
Melissa Dane, president of Beverly Bootstraps' board of directors, said the organization is continually trying to make people aware that it is more than food pantry.
"I think people know a lot about what we do but we're still always trying to get the word out," Dane said. "I do believe the need is as strong as ever."
For all Bootstraps does, Gabriel said it is always trying to find ways to reach more people. She said seniors and college students are increasingly in need of services.
"We know there are more people out in the community that are food insecure and we're not reaching them," she said.
Toward that goal, Bootstraps is looking into the possibility of setting up refrigerated lockers in the downtown area for clients to access food rather than having to go to the food pantry. A client could be given a code to the locker to access a pre-packaged bag with perishable foods and given a certain amount of time to get there. As soon as the person takes the bag and closes the locker, the code resets.
"It's not the bags on the tables at the First Baptist Church," Gabriel said. "We're continuing to adapt."
Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2535, email@example.com, or on Twitter at @heardinbeverly.