NORTH HARWICH — Everyone looks forward to Independence Day, but perhaps none so much as clients of the Family Pantry. Still, for many, the day they don’t need help putting food on the table can be elusive.
The majority of Family Pantry clients – 63 percent – are working one job or more, and many are employed during the busy summer season. But during the off season, the low wages and few hours available mean families can't make ends meet. According to government statistics, the living wage on Cape Cod is $26 an hour, but officials say that number is misleading, given the high cost of housing, health care and other essentials.
“Do the math,” Family Pantry Executive Director Christine 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. Year-round housing is scarce and expensive on Cape Cod, transportation and child care is a challenge. It’s a difficult place for working families to live, and it doesn’t help that Massachusetts has the fifth highest food costs in the nation.
Donors who contribute to The Chronicle’s summertime Helping Neighbors campaign between now and the end of August can take advantage of a generous matching grant offered by an anonymous group of Chatham summer residents. The donors are particularly hoping to inspire giving by other summer residents and visitors, but will match any gift from any donor, up to $60,000. To contribute, click here.
Each dollar donated to the Family Pantry provides four meals. Every year, the organization distributes over $3.5 million in food and clothing to families around the Cape. Last year, it began allowing clients to receive bags of groceries every two weeks, rather than the three-week limit used for years. In so doing, “you've literally taken that food bill off the plate,” for many working families hoping to make ends meet, she said. That means more money available for housing or other expenses.
And while the Family Pantry’s new clients were up 23 percent last year, Menard said there are still families they’re not reaching. To that end, last month they added a fourth day of the week when clients can visit to get groceries; the facility is now open Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. But there are still hungry working families on the Cape, many of which have children.
“It is not easy to go out begging for food,” one client wrote in a Family Pantry survey last summer. “We just do without.”
“When they changed to giving out food every two weeks, it just saved lives,” another client wrote.