Hesitant At First, Seniors Now Welcome Help From Pantry

By: Elizabeth Van Wye

Lots of elbow grease – mostly from an army of volunteers – keeps the Family Pantry warehouse running smoothly. FILE PHOTO

Harwich residents John and Jane Doe (names and some identifying information has been changed at their request) never thought they would need the services of the Family Pantry of Cape Cod. Natives of Rhode Island, Jane and her husband moved to the Cape when they retired four years ago.

“I’ve loved this part of New England all of my life,” she said.

Jane learned about the services of the Family Pantry from the senior center. “I knew folks who used the pantry but I never thought it could be me,” she said. Living on a limited income, the couple found themselves struggling to make ends meet.

The Family Pantry was founded in 1989 by a group of fewer than a dozen members of the St. Vincent De Paul Society of Holy Trinity Church who “realized that they could not keep up with financial aid to people who needed food so they decided to start a pantry,” according to the Pantry website.

Today, the Family Pantry serves over 9,000 people annually and is open Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturday mornings. Housed in a large warehouse on Queen Anne Road in Harwich, the Pantry receives food from the Greater Boston Food Bank for distribution to the 30 pantries and soup kitchens on the Cape and Islands.

“The first time I went to the Pantry I was very uneasy about receiving free food,” Jane recalled.

Although she felt uncomfortable about using the Pantry the first time, that feeling soon changed. Asked why, she summed it up simply. “Because they make you feel welcome.”

The Pantry is a non-denominational, non-profit organization staffed by over 500 volunteers, a full-time executive director, a full-time warehouse manager and two part-time staff members serving as a program manager and office manager. 

Jane has advice for other retirees who might find themselves in the position she and her husband were in. “Don’t be hesitant; they will help you and decide your eligibility.”

Determining eligibility can happen the first time someone visits the Pantry. In a brief interview, staffers can confirm eligibility for assistance and obtain needed information about the household. Applicants are encouraged to bring their driver’s license or other form of identification that shows name, address, and birth date. Similar documentation of the names, addresses, and birth dates of others in the household is also needed. 

“In our retirement, with limited income, the additional help with food, clothing and miscellaneous items have made it much easier for us to get by,” Jane stressed. Among the items most often in her basket are vegetables, breads, meats and cheeses. “Toiletries are most helpful,” she added.

Jane visits the pantry every two weeks. “I have come to know and love the considerate and efficient volunteers,” she said. “Their dedication is amazing to all of us who come to be helped.”

The couple are very grateful for the work of the Pantry staff and volunteers. In a letter expressing her thanks, Jane Doe wrote, “I’ve been lucky enough to belong to the family of folks who rely heavily on the benefits, kindness and dedication of the Family Pantry organization of Harwich.”

As it does each year, The Cape Cod Chronicle is challenging its readers to contribute to the Family Pantry through our annual Helping Neighbors campaign. To help, visit www.CapeCodChronicle.com and click on the Helping Neighbors logo, 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).