Community Food Bank Prepares for Busy Holiday Season
Program helps hundreds of Tewksbury residents.
For some people, requesting aid is no easy task because it requires that they admit that their situation is in dire need of repair.
For those whose situations have spiraled out of control and they can no longer provide the appropriate amount of food for themselves or their family, the Tewksbury Community Food Pantry is here to help.
Located behind the Department of Public Works at 999 Whipple Road, funding for its construction came exclusively from donations by Tewksbury residents. Masons, roofers and builders donated their time and supplies to build the facility.
The inside of the 2,400 square foot warehouse contains rows of shelves built by Eagle Scouts, as well as refrigerators and freezers purchased with donated funds and numerous boxes full of food ready to be distributed.
A majority of the food has been donated directly through various food drives but the Pantry still purchases roughly $100,000 in food each year to accommodate those in need.
Accordin the staff members, the number of families who receive aid has increased over the last few years, but their demographics have remained the same. Elderly shut-ins who are unable to go shopping, families in transition and individuals who are down on their luck make up a bulk of those in need.
The food pantry's staff is made up entirely of volunteers. Spending Friday morning in the presence of some of those helpers, I got to see first-hand their hard work and dedication.
Todd Johnson, chairman of the Board of Directors for the Community Food Pantry, has been volunteering for over 15 years. He oversees the entire food pantry operation, which consists of 20 board members, 80-90 volunteers from all walks of life and the roughly 180 families who receive aid.
Johnson stresses that although the food pantry is able to provide for all 180 families, it cannot be their sole source of food.
"What we give you for food is designed to be supplementary," he said. "It's not your primary source of food…You might get roughly the equivalent of one week's worth of food."
Regardless, families are still very thankful for the assistance they receive, Johnson said.
"We have some people who have gone through that process where they have come down here out of absolute necessity, they used the pantry for a number of months. They get back on their feet," he said. "And then we might get a check from them for 10 or 15 dollars as a contribution towards helping another set of people who have followed in their footsteps. And they remember the assistance they got and the help up that they got."
There is a system in place to ensure that the people receiving the assistance are truly in need. Those who wish to obtain food from the pantry must fill out a form stating their needs and provide proof of their residency in town.
However, the biggest problem isn't people attempting the cheat the system by getting free food; it's sometimes helping those who are too proud to ask for help.
"I remember a couple years ago there was an elderly gentleman who was a veteran and the veterans' agent in town here referred him to us," recalled Johnson. "It literally took him six months to work up the courage to come down here. Eventually, one day he got to the door and he literally stood in the doorway … he did not want to come in because he would have to admit that he needed help … and he came in, eventually, and it pained him to do so but he was welcomed in.
"He received some benefits and, to my knowledge, I think he used the facility here for maybe six or eight months and stopped coming. Whether he continues to need that or not, I'm not sure. But he did get the benefit and it took a lot to do that."
Many of the volunteers share the same motivation as to why they give their free time to the Community Food Pantry. They say they want to give back to their communities.
Volunteer Paula Phenix explained her reasons for working her work schedule around her volunteering at the pantry.
"I want to give back to my community. And by me being a part of it I also taught my daughter that community service is very important. She's gone off to college and she's still doing it!" Phenix said. "So it makes me feel good to know that I instilled in her the importance of being a fortunate person in her own life and having the opportunities that she has and that there are a lot of people who don't have those opportunities."
Housewife Kim Brown echoed her sentiments.
"I just want to be able to help out my community," she said.
The Community Food Pantry distributes food from 9 a.m. to noon on the second Sunday of every month, from 7 to 8:30 p.m. the next night and from 10 a.m. to noon the following Saturday. Business tends to pick up around Thanksgiving and Christmas, so extra distribution days are added the Sundays before those two holidays.