A Season For Giving Thanks And Helping Neighbors: Chronicle Launches Holiday Campaign For The Family Pantry Of Cape Cod

by Alan Pollock

Folks began lining up at around 7 a.m. Sunday morning, an hour-and-a-half before the Family Pantry was set to open its doors for the annual Thanksgiving meal distribution. Some were young, some were old; some had children and a few were alone. They looked like...our neighbors.

By 11 a.m., 400 shopping carts filled with all the trimmings for a Thanksgiving feast had rolled out those same doors. But the story behind that generosity is worth sharing.

We’re doing so as we launch our 20th annual Helping Neighbors campaign to raise money for the Family Pantry of Cape Cod. In honor of that milestone anniversary, we’ve set the highest fundraising goal ever; we’re encouraging our readers to help us raise $125,000 by New Year’s Day. Thanks to David and Gail Oppenheim and three anonymous donors, the first $50,000 in contributions are being matched dollar for dollar. Each week, The Chronicle will be publishing the names of donors and sharing stories about the Pantry, the people who rely on it to put groceries on the table each month, and the volunteers who make it all happen.

Each year, we report that the number of clients who turn to the Family Pantry has increased, and 2023 is no exception.

“Right now we are at 28 percent over last year, and last year was 39 percent [over the previous year],” Family Pantry Executive Director Christine Menard said. “We’re running about 700 families a week right now.” For perspective, when Menard took her position eight years ago, the Pantry was serving 180 families each week. What’s changed since then?

“The world,” Menard said simply. The pandemic harmed the economy and challenges in the industrial supply chain still remain. “Now we hit the war in Ukraine, which hit the oil pricing. And then we hit 40-year inflation,” she said. While inflation has moderated, food prices remain high. Locally, that pressure is paired with the severe lack of housing, and it’s a recipe for financial hardship.

“We have families — literally, not lying — there are 15 people in the house. Fifteen,” she said. People are drawn together to pool resources for survival, “because there’s no other place to live.”

The Family Pantry can’t solve the housing crisis, but it can help struggling families by alleviating one major expense: food. Visitors to the pantry get to choose from a selection of healthy foods, including fresh produce, dairy and proteins — expensive staples that many food pantries don’t offer. It’s all offered free, with no strings attached. Clients can even choose from a selection of donated clothing to take home.

From its headquarters in North Harwich, Family Pantry volunteers work with compassion, humanity, and almost military efficiency when it comes to feeding those families. And so it was Sunday morning when 400 of those clients made a special trip for a grocery cart filled with Thanksgiving favorites.

Working in assembly-line fashion, volunteers began by adding a bag of nonperishables: canned green beans, a brownie mix and cans of gravy. The shopping bags had been decorated with Thanksgiving turkeys traced from the little hands of elementary school volunteers, and had been packed, counted and stacked by Dennis-Yarmouth High School students. Each shopping cart then received bags of fresh potatoes, onions and carrots, and a huge butternut squash. A frozen turkey, one of many donated by local individuals or restaurants, was added to each order. Finally, a volunteer placed a fresh-baked pie in each shopping cart, which was then rolled out to a waiting client. Behind the scenes, new volunteers joined seasoned workers who’ve been preparing Thanksgiving orders for the Family Pantry together for many years. Other volunteers welcomed and registered the clients; still others had spent hours preparing the warehouse for the assembly line.

In the first 45 minutes, 240 carts went out the door. By the end of the day, the Family Pantry had distributed more than 750 turkeys; 210 were sent to local senior citizens through area councils on aging, and another 60 were given to families in the Monomoy and Dennis-Yarmouth school districts.

Though the Family Pantry uses the bulk buying power of the Greater Boston Food Bank to reduce the cost of the food it buys, financial contributions are needed to keep the massive operation humming.

“For the last 20 years, The Chronicle’s readers have dug deep each holiday season to support the Family Pantry, and we know they’ll be just as generous this year,” Publisher Henry C. Hyora said. “Helping neighbors just seems to come naturally to people on the Lower Cape, and we’re proud to be a part of it.”

To contribute to The Chronicle's Helping Neighbors campaign, click here: https://capecodchronicle.com/pages/view/helping-neighbors-benefits-the-family-pantry-of-cape-cod. You can also mail a tax-deductible contribution to The Family Pantry, 133 Queen Anne Rd., Harwich, MA 02645, or call 508-432-6519 to donate by credit card.