Like many Newton Food Pantry clients, Bob Felleman was reluctant to visit the pantry the first time. “I didn’t think I really needed it,’ he says. “I can make do on my budget. I would rather see people hungrier than me get food.” But when he went to Newton City Hall to find out about housing options, the social worker offered to help with food as well. “I said no at first, but she was insistent. She said ‘come on, it’s right downstairs!’ She dragged me down there, and it was almost a fun experience!” 

Bob soon became a convert and started bringing friends with him on his shopping trips. But when COVID-19 hit, the shopping experience changed. Instead of selecting the food he wanted, he picked up a prepackaged bags of food. “It made sense policy-wise to have it outside and not be aiding and abetting the disease,” he said, “It was out of necessity, but there were no choices – you ended up getting foods you didn’t need.” A self-proclaimed foodie, Bob hates to waste food. “I live in a 55+ building with 160 people.  There’s a little shelf outside everyone’s door – some people put flowers on it. I would put things I didn’t want out there and people on my floor would take them. That made me happy. We got a rude awakening about how much hunger there was during COVID.”  

Bob knows good food, and he’s happy to get it at the Newton Food Pantry. “I’m a food revolutionary, what can I tell you?” he notes, explaining his deep appreciation for fresh ingredients and variety. “When I was growing up, if I went to a friend’s house for dinner and we had salad, we had iceberg lettuce with a tomato mixed in. At my house we had chicory and escarole – my father bought that stuff – and I got addicted to fresh salads.” That’s one reason he’s been pleasantly surprised with the recent changes at the pantry.  “In the last 3 months, I’ve seen new things that I can use to make great meals – heads of garlic, spicy peppers, tofu, Chinese noodles, things that are not normal in pantries.”

Bob was one of the first visitors to the updated pantry space in Newton City Hall, which reopened to the public on September 1st. “The new space is great. The enhanced design and accessibility is much better,” he says. “It’s light and bright with pictures on the walls – it’s so much nicer to have a happy space, with sunny yellows and open space.”  

The space itself was just one of the changes Bob and a friend experienced when they visited, “We went via appointment which is a new thing.  We were greeted by four workers and there was no wait. I’m a 5 minute shopper – I know what I want, like to zip through, say thank you and leave. Some people want to spend 35 minutes in the aisles inspecting every item. The aisles are wider now so more people can get by and shop at their own pace.” He also appreciates the freedom of choice he experiences by shopping on his own: “They never used to let you shop by yourself – someone would move you around and try to help you select your items,” he says, remembering the protocol of the past. “I’m 75 years old – I don’t need someone to set my diet for me. I know what to take and not to take. Now you’re able to go through the aisles and take what you want. I move through much faster, and get raw ingredients rather than canned food.  It’s a much healthier experience.”