In this country we have often-strange priorities when it comes to food and feeding the hungry.
In 2010, $161 billion worth of food was wasted and ended up in landfills, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. This represents 30 to 40 percent of all the food produced. And in 2017, people spent over $66 billion on dieting and weight loss products.
At the same time, many of us can’t conceive of what it means to go hungry, without the means to finance a meal for ourselves or our family. Yet in Barnstable County, 10 percent of all residents are “food insecure.” This year over 9,500 clients visited the Family Pantry of Cape Cod to receive 90,000 bags of groceries—a 16 percent increase over last year. Thirty percent of these clients are children and 30 percent are seniors.
“We can find the food we need on the Cape, we just can’t afford it,” says one pantry client. Another says, “The pantry provides all the basics and then I can go to Stop & Shop for just a chicken.”
Beginning last October, the number of pantry clients began to rise, as it does each year. During the off-season, many workers hours are cut due to the Cape’s seasonal economy. The number of clients will remain constant through next April, as the spring arrives and the local economy, too, wakes up.
“I expect the current trend to continue, with clients facing several lean months ahead of them,” says the Family Pantry’s Executive Director Christine Menard. “Pantry volume will not slow down until the local business begins to pick up.”
With the help of The Cape Cod Chronicle’s Helping Neighbors fund drive of the past six weeks, the pantry will be able to meet local needs. Through the morning of Dec. 27 the drive had brought in just under $30,000, Menard says. Last summer’s Helping Neighbors drive raised $100,000, of which $50,000 came from a pool of matching funds from a group of South Chatham residents.
Each dollar goes a lot farther than you might think, thanks to the pantry’s ability to purchase 60 percent of its food wholesale through the Greater Boston Food Bank. For example, every dollar spent at the pantry’s Second Glance Thrift Boutique at 265 Main St., West Harwich provides four meals for hungry Cape Codders.
Hunger on Cape Cod isn’t about people going hungry one afternoon between meals; it is about being profoundly hungry almost all the time while working, going to school, dealing with family life. One challenge is that there are “still a ton of people who don’t know we exist,” Menard says.
“It is not easy to go out begging for food — we just do without,” a client said about the period before her family found the pantry.
There are many ways that you can help the pantry by donating your “time, treasure or talent.”
You can donate your time and talent by volunteering at the main Harwich pantry, the Cape Cod Community College pantry, Second Glance or in the seasonal vegetable garden. The mobile pantry, launched in September 2016, is also looking for volunteers.
The Family Pantry has 640 volunteers — and the volunteers say they love their work.
“I’m thankful I have the opportunity to do this,” says Ruth Walicki of Harwich, who began volunteering at Second Glance 12 years ago, even before she retired.
“I’m sure that this organization would not be as successful without the support of donations and aid from the many Cape Codders who give their time, money and hearts throughout the year,” says one pantry client who, in retirement, needs a little help with food and clothing.
Another way you can help is by donating your “treasures” in the form of gently-worn clothing, jewelry, home goods, artwork and un-upholstered furniture. These items will be sold through Second Glance, which raises money for the pantry. Donations to Second Glance are accepted at the Food Pantry.
And of course, you can donate any amount of cash. “Here is a $30 donation for the people in need,” reads a hand-written note to the pantry from two young sisters. “We raised this money by selling lemonade, and there were many generous people who contributed. I hope this money will put a smile on at least one person’s face!”
The pantry’s clients are grateful. One client writes that she was embarrassed when she visited the pantry “but everyone there was superb!”
Rather than going hungry this winter, Cape Codders are welcome to visit the pantry. “The pantry is available to anyone who could use a little help now or in the future,” Menard says. “Clients are able to shop for food and clothing every 14 days, and we encourage anyone who is unsure to just give us a call. We can help.”
The pantry welcomes donations year-round. Send a check to The Family Pantry, 133 Queen Anne Road, Harwich, MA 02645 or visit www.thefamilypantry.com.