Volunteers Lend Hands, Hearts For Family Pantry

By: Alan Pollock

Topics: Hunger

On Nov. 19, Dennis-Yarmouth High School students volunteered at the Family Pantry, assembling 537 complete turkey dinners for the annual Thanksgiving dinner distribution. Each family received a turkey, apples, potatoes, onions, stuffing, beans, corn, cranberry sauce, brownie mix and a fresh pie. COURTESY PHOTO

HARWICH — When it comes to volunteer management, the Family Pantry has a simple strategy for each of the more than 500 people who lend their time and talent.

“They need to feel better when they leave than when they came here,” Executive Director Christine Menard said. Thanks to thoughtful organization, clear direction and good management, volunteers keep coming back.

“That's why we're as good as we are,” she said. Each week, people of all ages and backgrounds give of their time at the Family Pantry. The operation would simply be impossible without them, Menard said. From toting boxes to sorting donations, from working with clients to gardening, there's no shortage of jobs.

Serving clients from all Cape Cod towns, the Family Pantry provides people with groceries every three weeks, offering their choice of nutritious food items. It also provides clothing and household items and helps clients apply for heating assistance and other social service programs. In 2015, the Family Pantry provided thousands of clients more than 55,000 bags of food, the equivalent of 1.15 million meals. That's more than 690 tons of food, all of which is received, inspected and processed by volunteers in their North Harwich warehouse.

From retirees to schoolchildren, Family Pantry volunteers labor away each week to make sure the shelves are stocked when clients arrive. And a behind-the-scenes visit always shows the same thing: volunteers who are smiling and laughing, and occasionally playing pranks on one another.

“This place can be very, very funny,” Menard said. Volunteers are given the opportunity to choose the time and the duration of their service, and are well trained and feel confident and comfortable in their jobs. It's a great place for volunteers to make new friends, she added.

“Two-and-a-half hours go by in a blink,” Menard said.

Aside from the volunteers who work in the warehouse and in Second Glance, the Pantry's upscale thrift shop in West Harwich, many others pitch in as members of social groups. Take, for instance, the police and firefighters who take part in the Homeless for the Holidays event at Brooks Park (see related story, page 25). Living in tents for 103 consecutive hours, the first responders are collecting Toys for Tots and non-perishable food and cash donations for the Family Pantry. When they did so last year, Pantry officials were literally overwhelmed.

“It actually caught us by surprise,” Menard said of the huge volume of donations. “This year, we're ready for them.”

Then there's the crew at Allen Harbor Yacht Club, whose members donate and cook a Thanksgiving feast each year and contribute the proceeds, along with money raised in an auction, to the Family Pantry. This year's event, held Nov. 12, raised $16,000. “And they make the best turkey dinner ever,” Menard said.

Though youngsters have to be at least 15 to volunteer, there are plenty of opportunities for energetic teens. Local Interact clubs from Nauset and Dennis-Yarmouth High School regularly send volunteers, as do Monomoy students who are members of the “100 Hour” community service club. Some work in the warehouse and some in the boutique. A few teens even volunteer to tend to the Pantry's garden, which provides fresh produce for clients' grocery bags.

“Young people are great. They have very good knees,” Menard quipped.

Teens can come by themselves or bring friends.

“Come in a pack,” she said.

To learn about volunteer opportunities at The Family Pantry, visit www.TheFamilyPantry.com or call 508-432-6519.

Thank you for supporting the Cape Cod Chronicle's Helping Neighbors campaign.  Names of donors, except those who wish to remain anonymous, will be printed in the paper each week. Donate now, or send a tax-deductible donation to The Family Pantry, 133 Queen Anne Rd., Harwich, MA 02645 (please write “Helping Neighbors” in the memo line), or call 508 432-6519 to learn about other ways to help.

Helping Neighbors Donations
Week Two

Anonymous $100.00
Jane Lombardi $75.00
Colin and Jane Stevenson $50.00
Joe and Jan Roller $200.00
Anonymous $25.00
Anonymous $50.00
Anonymous $50.00
Anonymous $200.00
Anonymous $100.00
John and Judy Schumacher $200.00
Tom Gribble and Irene Heisig $50.00
James Coughlin $50.00

 Weekly Total $1,150.00

Previous Week's Donations $2,070.00