Cape Cod Hunger Network News


by Alan Pollock
Cape Cod Chronicle

Every year seems to bring sad superlatives to the Family Pantry: the greatest number of clients, the largest percentage of first-time clients, and the strongest demand for donated clothing, toys and other goods. This year, with the economy still struggling, hundreds of new people are turning to the nonprofit food pantry to help them bridge hard times.

“It is wild,” Executive Director Mary Anderson said of this year’s demand. The pantry’s North Harwich warehouse used to be open on select mornings, but added a second shift of volunteers in 2009 to allow it to open on certain evenings. A third shift has just been added on Tuesdays in the afternoon to handle the crowds, and more than 100 clients have come for help during those shifts in the last few weeks.

“I think it’s hitting another layer of people,” Anderson said. As always, the clients represent all ages and sectors of the population, but there are many first-time visitors recently. “Several that I’ve talked to used to be donors, and I find them very apologetic,” she said. While they were in a position to help their neighbors a few years ago, “somebody’s laid off, somebody’s out of work, somebody’s out sick,” and they’re now in line to receive assistance, Anderson said.

As it does each year, The Cape Cod Chronicle is challenging its readers to do their part for The Family Pantry, through the Helping Neighbors campaign. It is the Family Pantry’s most important single fundraising event, Anderson said. Since the campaign was launched eight years ago, Chronicle readers have contributed several hundred thousand dollars to help keep nutritious food on the table for local residents. Around 8,000 families received help last year, and almost half of those people were children. Last year, Helping Neighbors raised nearly $60,000 for the Family Pantry; this year, Cape Cod Chronicle Publisher Henry Hyora set the target at $65,000.

“If every one of our subscribers sends in $6.50, we’ll meet that goal,” he said. “It’s truly a small price to pay to help families in our own neighborhoods.” The Chronicle launched the campaign with a $1,000 donation, and will be featuring stories about the Family Pantry each week through Christmas. The newspaper is making its donation in lieu of sending holiday cards this season, Hyora said.

But for each of the sad superlatives this year, there are some more cheerful ones. The Family Pantry’s volunteer ranks continue to swell; there are now more than 300 volunteers carrying out all kinds of jobs from clerical work and warehouse operation to operating the Second Glance thrift shop in Harwich Port, an important source of revenue for the pantry. “They’re an incredible group of people,” Anderson said.

The Family Pantry also continues to expand its food offerings for clients; through its partnership with the Greater Boston Food Bank, the organization takes advantage of a new “meat rescue program” with local supermarkets, which freeze meats just before their sell-by dates. “It’s still good quality because they’ve frozen it before that date, but it’s not necessarily something they would sell in a retail store,” Anderson said.

This year’s biggest addition was the community garden, which was built and planted earlier this year with help from an army of volunteers, tech school students and professionals, using land provided by the town. Its first full harvests will come next year, and the garden committee is already planning on ways to maximize production of popular crops like tomatoes, squash, peas, string beans and carrots. For the crops that are less popular but more nutritious, the Family Pantry is working with the county extension service to provide education and new recipes for clients.

Family Pantry clients can receive various different types of assistance in a single visit. In addition to receiving groceries, they can choose items from a boutique of used clothing, and even sign up for fuel assistance or food stamps with expert help from Family Pantry volunteers. Around the holidays, the Family Pantry provides an additional service: it provides toys for clients’ children.

“It’s expensive to buy toys,” Anderson said. In a bid to reserve more of its revenues for purchasing food, the Family Pantry is glad to be taking part in a used toy drive that coincides with the Harwich Chamber of Commerce’s Christmas in the Harwiches event. During the festival, people are encouraged to bring new, unwrapped toys to several locations around town, including Benson, Young and Downs Insurance; the Cape Cod Five branches in Harwich Port, East Harwich and South Dennis; Commonwealth Associates in Harwich Port; the Cooperative Bank of Cape Cod in East Harwich; and the Second Glance thrift shop. Toys should be in the $15 to $20 range, and there is a special need for items for young teens, Anderson said.

Even as Family Pantry volunteers hustled to prepare Thanksgiving food packages for clients this week, Anderson said she’s particularly thankful for the generosity of Cape Cod Chronicle readers, who always come through when times are tough—like the time a couple of years ago when Helping Neighbors was slightly under its goal. The Chronicle made one final appeal to its readers, “and within days we had another, I think it was, $10,000,” Anderson said. “It took us well over the goal.”

To contribute to The Cape Cod Chronicle’s “Helping Neighbors” campaign, fill out the form on Page 46, or send a taxdeductible check to The Family Pantry, 133 QueenAnne Rd., Harwich, MA02645. Please write “Helping Neighbors” on the memo line. Donations can also be made online at

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