Chronicle Launches 14th Annual 'Helping Neighbors' Campaign

By: Alan Pollock

Topics: Hunger

Jay Herzog and Christine Menard set up the pie station for Sunday's special food distribution. DEBRA DeCOSTA PHOTO

On Sunday, 450 local families queued up at the Family Pantry's headquarters in Harwich, and a satellite center in West Barnstable, to receive Thanksgiving dinners. Each left with a turkey and grocery bags filled with potatoes, vegetables, stuffing and a pie, courtesy of the Family Pantry and its donors.

Now that's something to be thankful for.

As we've done each Thanksgiving since 2004, The Cape Cod Chronicle is inviting its readers to join us in supporting the Family Pantry of Cape Cod as part of our Helping Neighbors campaign. Each week through New Year's, we'll be featuring stories about the Family Pantry, its clients and its amazing volunteers.

 This year has been a watershed one for the organization, which now allows clients to receive bags of groceries every two weeks, rather than the three-week limit they’ve used for years.  The result is a big increase in food distribution, more clients, and less food insecurity for local families.

“I live on less than $11,000 a year and I still don't qualify for SNAP,” one client said, referring to the federal nutrition program formerly known as Food Stamps. “I have to pay for everything. The Pantry makes it so I can eat.”

The Pantry gets many of the turkeys from the Greater Boston Food Bank, but the Chatham Wayside Inn donated 100 birds, and Cape Community Business Partners also gave 100. The rest came individually from private donors and small businesses. And while the Family Pantry will certainly brighten the holidays for its clients, its real work is in helping them survive day to day, season to season.

To that end, Cape Cod Chronicle Publisher Henry C. Hyora started this year's Helping Neighbors campaign with a $1,000 contribution.

“That's 4,000 meals right there,” Pantry Executive Director Christine Menard said. This year's Helping Neighbors goal is $60,000.

“Meeting that goal is well within our reach,” Hyora said. “If each of our readers contributed just $7.50, we'd have our $60,000.” And each year, Chronicle readers rise to that challenge. With help from an anonymous donor, last year's campaign reached its $60,000 target, and that generous donor went on to recruit other seasonal residents and visitors for our first-ever summertime Helping Neighbors effort. That campaign raised a stunning $149,595, far surpassing organizers' expectations. But now it’s time again for year-rounders to do their part during our holiday campaign.

Government officials say the living wage on Cape Cod is $26 an hour, but Menard said the number is misleading. The majority of Family Pantry clients – 63 percent – are working one job or more, but during the off season, the low wages and few hours available mean families can't make ends meet. Given the high cost of housing, health care and other essentials, $26 is simply insufficient, even though it's more than most hourly workers here earn.

“Do the math,” Menard said. Making that amount, even working 40 hours a week, an individual grosses $54,000 a year. On Cape Cod, “you'd starve to death,” she said. By offering clients bags of groceries every two weeks instead of three, “you've literally taken that food bill off the plate,” she said. That means more money available for housing or other expenses.

“We make it possible for people to stay here,” she said.

Chronicle readers can contribute here. They can also 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. The Chronicle will publish a list of donors each week.

Area businesses are also pitching in for the Family Pantry. A special Festival of Trees is being held in Harwich Port at White Flowers, and the Chatham Candy Manor is selling special canvas jersey T-shirts to benefit the Family Pantry. They are also selling gift boxes of select chocolates and donating half of the proceeds. Organic Market is matching customers' donations of $5 or $10 by donating organic food to the Pantry, and Local Color is holding wreath- and ornament-making workshops and donating the proceeds. Nauset Disposal is holding its annual “Curb Hunger” food drive, allowing customers to donate a bag of food to the Family Pantry by leaving it alongside their trash containers on their regular collection day.

There are other ways to help. Thanks to the generosity of the artists who painted them, the original artwork on the covers of The Cape Cod Chronicle’s two Christmas gift guides will be auctioned off to the highest bidder. All proceeds will be donated to The Family Pantry of Cape Cod.

The painting on the first gift guide, included in this edition, is titled “Christmas Eve,” by Liz Perry. It is a 20-by-14-inch framed mixed media work with gold leaf. The painting on the second gift guide cover, “Sledding in the Park,” was created by Pati DuVall. Both works can be viewed at The Chronicle's office at 60-C Munson Meeting Way, Chatham. To place a bid in the silent auction, email ChristmasAuction@CapeCodChronicle.com through Dec. 18. Bidders should write “Christmas Auction” in the subject line and include the bid amount, the piece they are bidding on, and their phone number. Updates on bids will be posted occasionally on our website, and the winning bid will be awarded Dec. 19.