The Island Food Pantry’s proposed new food distribution center in Oak Bluffs appears to be on a glide path after the project won unanimous approval last week from the Martha’s Vineyard Commission.

The plan is to convert a former auto shop later used as a musicians’ collaborative into a hub where provisions can be collected, stored and distributed to the many Islanders who are affected by food insecurity. The MVC approval came less than a month after the Martha’s Vineyard Bank Foundation awarded the project a $1 million grant.

Located on Dukes County avenue, a mixed commercial-residential area in the heart of Oak Bluffs, the building has been vacant for years, which may account in part for the enthusiasm with which the project has been embraced by neighbors. Two neighbors took the trouble to appear at an MVC hearing in support of the project, and five others wrote letters in favor of it.

At a time when the response to so many proposed projects seems to be “put it at the airport,” it is heartening to see Islanders rallying around the concept of meeting a critical need where it exists — in the community. According to Island Grown Initiative, which merged with the Food Pantry three years ago, more than 4,200 people are now served by the food bank annually, accounting for a staggering 18 per cent of the year-round population.

There are no hard and fast eligibility requirements for taking advantage of the food pantry. Many clients are families eligible for benefits under SNAP, the federal program that succeeded the food stamp program. But others are simply unable to afford groceries every once in a while. Clients are asked to register, but no one is turned away.

For years, the Island Food Pantry has operated out of cramped, shared space — for many years in the basement of the United Methodist stone church in Vineyard Haven, and more recently at the Portuguese-American club. The limits of its location have only increased as the need has grown.

During the dark days of the pandemic, cars would line up for blocks outside the food panty. In a thoughtful innovation, IGI will institute a pre-order and appointment system at the new center which will limit client pick-ups to 14 people per hour.

Since its founding 42 years ago, the Island Food Pantry has operated on the kindness of the community, relying on donations of money and food to ensure that no one — in a place best known for its wealth — goes hungry. Creation of a new food center is a great step forward, but those who can afford to must continue to give generously to ensure its success.