Summer Is A Key Time For 'Helping Neighbors'

By: Alan Pollock

Topics: Hunger

Volunteers are the heart of the Family Pantry, which distributes more than $3.5 million in food and clothing each year. FILE PHOTO

The signs of summer are there to see in every supermarket aisle: specials on hot dogs and hamburgers, soft drinks and the ingredients for s'mores. Like it or not, the July 4 holiday seems to be about food as much as our nation's independence. But one doesn't need to look very far to find hunger on Cape Cod, according to Family Pantry Executive Director Christine Menard.

“The face of hunger on the Cape is your summer landscaper, your grocery clerk, your housekeeper, your retired teacher,” she said.

Each year between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, the Cape Cod Chronicle invites its readers to send contributions to the Family Pantry of Cape Cod as part of our Helping Neighbors campaign.  Last year, with support from dozens of Cape Cod Chronicle readers – and a remarkable last-minute donation from an anonymous contributor – the 2016 “Helping Neighbors” campaign to benefit the Family Pantry met its fundraising goal of $60,000.

But that anonymous contributor felt that many potential donors miss their chance to take part because they are only on Cape Cod during warm weather days, when Helping Neighbors is just a memory — and when chronic hunger is a well-hidden problem.

To that end, Cape Cod Chronicle Publisher Henry Hyora announced that Helping Neighbors will be making a brief appearance each summer.  This year, the summer campaign hopes to raise $50,000, an ambitious goal which would nearly double our readers’ annual contribution.

“We’re grateful for all of our readers who have supported the Family Pantry over the years, and we’re glad for the chance to invite our summer visitors to take part,” Hyora said.  “Lots of people struggle to live in our seasonal economy, and summer is such a busy time.  It’s important to remember that many of the people who drive our service economy — and many of our retirees who are on fixed incomes — still need support in the summer.”

The anonymous donor from last year recruited help from several other Chatham summer residents, and has issued a $20,000 challenge grant for the campaign. The donors will match any donation from those who have never contributed to the Family Pantry before, and donations over $500 from any supporter, up to $20,000.

“I think this is a great idea,” Menard said. “This gives our summer residents the opportunity to support the Pantry when they might not otherwise be thinking of the year-round Cape community. It's about helping those who help us,” she said.

It's a busy time at the Family Pantry, the Cape's largest food pantry, which assists 1,200 Cape Cod families a month. With the number of new clients up 23 percent this year, the demand for assistance is growing, Menard noted.

“We're distributing food every two weeks to our clients, instead of every three weeks,” she said. Food is expensive in Massachusetts, and a full 10 percent of Cape residents are “food insecure,” meaning they do not know where their next meal is coming from. By helping reduce clients' grocery bills, the Family Pantry helps them free up funds to pay their mortgage, utilities or medical bills, Menard said.

With help from their 540 volunteers, many contributors and business sponsors, the Family Pantry is working to meet that demand. The organization's garden, which is a bit more like a small farm, generates more than 7,000 pounds of fresh produce annually.

“We grow four different types of tomatoes, four squashes, three different kinds of lettuce, eggplant, celery, peppers, herbs,” Menard said. With additional support from Chatham Bars Inn, Pantry clients have access to fresh, local produce in season – something most food pantries can't offer.

Sixty-three percent of Family Pantry clients have one or two working members in their family, but they earn far less than the $26 an hour that represents a “living wage” on Cape Cod. Jobs at this time of year are plentiful, but they typically offer low wages and limited hours. At $11 an hour, an employee who was allowed to work extended hours would still struggle. “They'd never make ends meet. That's where the Pantry steps in,” Menard said.

“It's no longer an 'emergency' pantry. This is what I call a sustaining pantry. It allows people to live here year-round,” she said.

The operation is an expensive one, and 60 percent of the food in the Family Pantry's vast warehouse in North Harwich is purchased, not donated. That's why recruiting the support of summer residents and visitors is so important.

“We appreciate the leadership of this small group of anonymous donors to get this summer campaign up and running,” Hyora said. The Helping Neighbors campaign will continue through July, and another article near the end of the fund drive will include the names of donors who wish to be recognized.

To contribute now, click here, 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). For more information or to learn about other ways to help, call 508-432-6519.