The Open Door and a Gloucester fishing company will share in $5.9 million in state grants to help ensure a secure food supply chain for Massachusetts residents, particularly in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The administration of Gov. Charlie Baker announced the $5.9 million is being distributed to 47 recipients within the Massachusetts local food system, including farms, non-profit emergency food distributors, seafood harvesters, processors and other elements in the state's food production and delivery system.

The Open Door, which operates food pantries in Gloucester and Ipswich and other food delivery services, received $201,073 to develop and implement an online food ordering and delivery system and enhance its Gloucester facility to provide more safe storage of locally produced food.

"We are reviewing software options now," said Julie LaFontaine, president and CEO of The Open Door. "We expect to be rolling it out after the first of the new year.

The grant, part of the fourth round of funding from the state's $36 million Food Infrastructure Security Grant program, also will help the non-profit on Emerson Avenue to expand its Mobile Market program throughout the Cape Ann community.

"This is an investment in the community's food security during the pandemic and beyond," LaFontaine said of the grant. "We're grateful to be partnering with the state to invest in the health and safety of our community."

Since mid-March through the end of September, The Open Door officials say the nonprofit has helped nearly 5,000 households hit by COVID-19 by providing groceries for 817,725 meals through 21,806 curbside distributions or deliveries. Also, its kitchen has prepared and distributed 28,871 fresh daily dinners. The Open Door's Summer Meals for Kids program also distributed more than 38,754 breakfasts and lunches —a five-fold increase — to children and families through the summer and bridging the weeks before school resumed.

The Open Door serves residents of Gloucester, Rockport, Manchester, Essex, Ipswich, Hamilton, Wenham, Rowley, Boxford and Topsfield.

Seafood harvesting

Also in Gloucester, the Russo Fishing Co., which operates the F/V Miss Trish, received $95,000 to develop an automated fish-gutting and conveyor system on the deck of the vessel to reduce the amount of time its catch remains on deck.

The system, according to the company's application, should allow the vessel to land higher quality fish with a longer shelf life.

The award to the Russo Fishing Co. is one of eight to seafood harvesters, producers and processors, as well as aquaculture operations, throughout the state.

The inclusion of fishing industry elements among the grant awards was a key point of emphasis, according to state Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr, R-Gloucester.

"The seafood industry is such an important part of our economy and our secure food delivery system, both here on Cape Ann and throughout the commonwealth," Tarr said.  "We were really heartened by the support we received from our colleagues in the legislature."

In September, 27 state legislators joined with Tarr and state Rep. Ann-Margaret Ferrante, D-Gloucester, in a letter to state Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Kathleen Theoharides urging support for the applications submitted by commercial fishing industry stakeholders.

"NOAA statistics indicate that 70% of seafood is purchased when dining out, thus the unprecedented closure of restaurants during the pandemic has caused a particular challenge that has forced many in the fishing industry to reevaluate their business practices and reorient their supply chains," the legislators wrote to Theoharides. "This has created new opportunities with great potential, but which depend on the ability of fishing industry applicants to get support from the Food Infrastructure Security Grant program given current financial constraints."

Other winners

In the first three rounds of funding, the food security grant program awarded $11.7 million in grants. The fourth round brings the funding total to $17.7 million.

Two other North Shore applicants also received grants in the latest round.

Citizen Inn, a Peabody-based nonprofit that provides housing and food services, received $475,000 to help renovate its facility to increase storage capacity for food received from the Greater Boston Food bank, as well as local farms and other partners.

In Salem, the Salem Public Schools system received $104,954 to purchase a van to deliver food to the homes of students and to other food distribution sites.

Contact Sean Horgan at 978-675-2714, or shorgan@gloucestertimes.com. Follow him on Twitter at @SeanGDT

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