The end of March, already a lean time for low-income Islanders and those whose seasonal earnings don’t always last through the winter, is looking even tougher this year for people who rely on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps.

On March 2, the federal government issued the last of its pandemic allotments, a temporary additional SNAP benefit of at least $95 a month depending on household size.

Originally meant to assist recipients whose income suffered from Covid-19 closures and restrictions, the allotments have helped some 1,000 Vineyard families keep up with rising food prices.

“People have started relying on that extra money, and now they’re trying to figure out how they’re going to make ends meet,” said Dukes County social services case worker Delilah Meegan.

Another key source of relief for hungry Islanders was also set to expire next month: a $1.2 million federal grant for a pair of homegrown community food programs that have helped feed thousands of people over the past year.

But just as the money was starting to run out, the Martha’s Vineyard Community Foundation announced last week that the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) grant has been not only renewed, but increased to $1.3 million.

“This was a real lifeline that was thrown,” said community foundation executive director Paul Schulz.

“It really feels like a wonderful reprieve for the Island,” he said.

Funneled through the community foundation, the federal grant will continue to support food programs from Island Grown Initiative and the Martha’s Vineyard Boys & Girls Club. The programs provide meals, snacks and groceries for Vineyarders in need.

Hilary Dreyer and Paul Schulz at the Martha's Vineyard Community Foundation said the $1.3 million grant will go to help existing food programs on the Island. — Ray Ewing

Island Grown Initiative, which operates the Island Food Pantry in Oak Bluffs, has seen its client base double over the past year, executive director Rebecca Haag said.

The nonprofit has served more than 4,100 people with the first round of CARES Act funding, said community foundation program director Hilary Dreyer, who wrote the grant application.

Hundreds more children, and increasingly their families as well, have received snacks, take-home meals and groceries through the MV Boys & Girls Club in Edgartown, which recently opened a food pantry of its own.

“They’re really growing their programs and how they serve their families and the kids that are coming to their after-school programs,” Ms. Dreyer said.

The club’s pantry stocks both fresh and shelf-stable groceries reclaimed from local supermarkets, along with a selection of personal-care products.

It’s currently open two days a week, but MV Boys & Girls Club executive director Dhakir Warren said he is aiming to expand pantry hours to meet the need.

“We had 40 families come to the pantry last week,” he said.

Making sure kids get enough of the nutritious food they need to develop, both physically and intellectually, has become one of the club’s core missions over the past few years.

After starting his job at the club in the fall of 2021, Mr. Warren said he began noticing that children were not only eating snacks after school, but taking some home to share with their parents.

The club has since built its food program to include take-home foods for families, with extra meals available to tide them over weekends and school vacations.

Last fall, Mr. Warren hired former West Tisbury School chef and nutrition evangelist Jenny DeVivo as the club’s director of food security. Ms. DeVivo established the club’s food pantry, collecting surplus groceries from Cronig’s several mornings a week, and oversees the club’s snack and meal programs.

Martha's Vineyard Boys and Girls Club executive director Dhakir Warren, left, and managing director Barbara-jean Chauvin. Mr. Warren said the lack of affordable housing is driving more people to seek food relief. — Ray Ewing

One reason the Boys & Girls Club and Island Grown are serving so many more Islanders than the SNAP program is that while the federal benefit is only available to documented residents of the U.S., there’s no similar restriction on the CARES Act funding.

“It is to serve low- and moderate-income individuals,” Mr. Schulz said.

The number of Martha’s Vineyard residents with SNAP benefits hit its previous peak in 2012 with 820 recipients before declining to 517 by 2017, according to data compiled by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis.

The numbers have been climbing steadily ever since, from 545 in 2018 to 750 the following year and 1,073 in 2021.

The high cost and short supply of housing for working Islanders is driving more families to seek food relief, according to Mr. Warren.

“Housing insecurity lends itself to increased need,” he said.

But SNAP users are far from the only Islanders who need assistance getting enough nutrition, said Sadie Dix of Island Grown Initiative, which serves a large number of Brazilian households through its food pantry.

“Many of our participants are not legal [U.S. residents] and do not receive SNAP benefits,” she said.

Even eligible Islanders don’t always take advantage of the federal benefit, she added.

“Seniors are very reluctant to apply for SNAP,” Ms. Dix said.

Those who do receive the benefit may be able to increase their monthly credit, despite the cut, if their rent has gone up since they last updated their information with the state Department of Transitional Assistance, said Ms. Meegan.

SNAP users also have access to the federal Healthy Incentive Program, which instantly credits back the cost of fresh produce bought directly from growers such as Morning Glory Farm, making the purchase free, she said.

Food insecurity on the Vineyard has increasingly been cutting across income lines and age groups, straining local resources, Mr. Schulz said.

“Children, seniors and those in the middle are all requesting this food,” he said. “This is really a spillover of the dramatic cost increase across the board on the Vineyard.”