Family Pantry: A Life Ring For Our Neighbors

By: Alan Pollock

Topics: Hunger

Family Pantry volunteers donned gay apparel for last year's toy distribution day. COURTESY PHOTO

First, consider a few numbers.

A decade ago, the Family Pantry of Cape Cod had an average of 621 client visits each month, distributing about 20,000 bags of food in the course of a year. Last year, it handed out more than 55,000 bags of food, seeing an average of 1,149 clients every month.

Consider just one more figure. As of the end of October, the Family Pantry had seen a jump of more than 13 percent in the number of new clients, compared to the same time period last year.

The numbers all add up to a simple fact: more and more Cape residents need help making ends meet. The Family Pantry helps by providing healthy groceries, clothing for adults and children, and connections to other types of assistance.

But facts and figures can sometimes hide the human truth behind need. An anonymous note, written in longhand by a Family Pantry client, tells a story of one family's tough times.

“Some unfortunate things happened with my summer work this year, and I was unable to pay my bills despite working 40 hours a week. My little family was in the storm again,” the woman wrote. “I'm almost 60 years old and still pretty strong, but I cannot make it in this economy.” In her letter, the woman wrote that she's worked since the age of 13, but has never made quite enough to get by.

In light of those setbacks, the Family Pantry provided the woman and her family with an important safety net. As she waited for her Food Stamps to be reinstated, the woman was able to visit the Family Pantry for healthy food. She also appreciated the recipes offered along with the fresh produce.

“It was so supportive to me to be able to come to the food bank and meet with the wonderful people across the counter – thank you each,” the woman wrote. “And I made the cucumber, pineapple, lime and cilantro salad for my neighbor and for my son. They both loved that killer recipe!”

The Family Pantry's garden, which is more like a small farm, is one the innovative ways it helps meet its mission of providing people with tasty, healthy food. For years, the Family Pantry struggled to provide fresh produce for its clients, as most large food pantries do. Planted and operated by volunteers, the garden provides clients with popular staples like tomatoes, onions and potatoes in season. But it also gives clients the choice to try items they might not have had before, like bok choy. With guidance from nutritionists, the Family Pantry often includes simple recipes that utilize these items and other ordinary foods they are likely to have.

Through its Fish for Families program, the Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen's Alliance does its part to provide Family Pantry clients with fresh, local food. Member fishermen donate portions of their catch, which are then flash-frozen in easy-to-use packaging, bringing all kinds of first-rate seafood to local families. As with the produce, the Family Pantry typically offers recipes along with its seafood – particularly when the catch of the day is something clients may find unfamiliar, like dogfish fillets.

With fresh fish or produce, as with the rest of the food items on the Family Pantry shelves, clients are free to choose what best suits their taste. There is a wide variety of choices, but the items are all healthy. Given that fresh produce and whole foods tend to be more expensive than processed, packaged items, Family Pantry grocery items do more than simply fill empty stomachs. They build strong bodies.

“This past year, I've lost a lot of weight and have cut back my salt and my sugar,” the anonymous Family Pantry client wrote. “We are eating so much healthier than in the past.”

As it does each holiday season, The Cape Cod Chronicle invites its readers to support the Family Pantry of Cape Cod by making a donation to the Helping Neighbors campaign. Click here to donate, 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, like volunteering.

“It is my hope that when I do retire, whenever that can happen, that I will be able to volunteer with your team there on Queen Anne Road,” the woman wrote. “I think the organization is amazing. And while I hope I don't need the food so much, I have so many prayers for your food bank's continuance, especially for the garden in the summer.”

Helping Neighbors Donations
Week Three

 Bernard and Judy Cornwell Foundation $5,000
Fred and Cora Greco $20
Anonymous $225
Barbara and Bill Wahlquist $7.50
Linda O'Connell $300
Anonymous $25
In Memory of Ingrid Clouther $100
Ted and Jodi Gallagher $100
Anonymous $50
Arthur Clough $50
Betty and Pieter Schiller $100
Linore Dudik Jones $25
Anonymous $50
Allan and Lesley Williams $50
Debra Guerard and Craig Chadwick $50
Terrence and Rebecca Milka $20
Alexander Walsh $100
Anonymous $25
Anonymous $50
Mary and John Leary $100
Gregory Heyl and Eric Riley $25
The Corneys $25
Anne Casey $50
Marcia and Michael Corrigan $500 

Weekly Total $7,047.50

Previous Donations $3,220.00