NORTH HARWICH — Three decades ago, the Family Pantry of Cape Cod began as a storage closet filled with canned goods at Holy Trinity Church, with a handful of volunteers collecting food donations and making them available to people in need. It was a simple case of neighbors helping neighbors.
Denny Duggan of Harwich, one of the five founding members of the Family Pantry, remembers holding meetings in the kitchen of the rectory. At the time, the church had been providing food vouchers to people in need, allowing them to pick up food at supermarkets, and the church would reimburse them. Another parishioner, Bob Murray, saw that the need was growing.
“We were giving out so many vouchers, he felt at the time that there had to be a better way, that we could use our money better,” Duggan recalled. Having come from Arlington, Murray knew about the Boston Food Bank, which at the time provided basic foodstuffs for 12 cents a pound. It was a great way to stretch their donated dollars, and together with George Morris, Deacon Vincent Walsh and Fr. Gabriel Healy, they created the Family Pantry.
Today, as the organization marks its 30th anniversary, the Family Pantry occupies a 12,000-square-foot warehouse in North Harwich, receiving and processing tons of food and donated clothing. Some 650 volunteers keep the organization running, and will serve somewhere in the neighborhood of 10,000 people this year. And it’s still about helping neighbors.
Though the actual 30th birthday is today, Aug. 8, the Family Pantry will be celebrating the milestone with clients between Aug. 26 and Sept. 7, and volunteers will come together to mark the event during the organization’s annual fall luncheon on Sept. 29. A Family Pantry volunteer even drafted up a special commemorative logo.
“We have so much talent in this building, it’s ridiculous,” Executive Director Christine Menard said. Another anniversary project is a pair of four-minute videos created by another talented volunteer, designed to help tell the Family Pantry’s story.
The first video was created expressly for new volunteer staff members, donors and supporters, and gives an overview of the organization’s mission and its operations. The video explains that about a third of the Family Pantry’s food comes from the Greater Boston Food Bank, and that other donations come from partnerships with local supermarkets. It tells about the Family Pantry’s garden and other efforts to increase the amount of fresh produce available to clients, and it describes the organization’s sources of revenue, including private donations, proceeds from the Second Glance Thrift Store and money raised recycling redeemable cans and bottles.
A second video is designed for prospective clients, “to take away some of the anxiety” people often feel when coming for assistance for the first time. In a welcoming tone, the narrator explains the registration requirements, and every step of the process to get groceries, from where to park to how to return the shopping cart at the end. It also shows how clients can get free clothing and housewares at the Family Pantry boutique. The video will be posted soon to the Family Pantry’s website, and will also include versions narrated in Spanish and Portuguese.
Last year, the Family Pantry of Cape Cod provided 1.9 million nutritious meals to 9,486 unique clients. They also distributed 33 tons of gently used clothing, and made countless referrals to fuel assistance and other programs. The 4,000-plus families they serve even received Thanksgiving turkey dinners and holiday toys for families with children.
Of the five founders of the Family Pantry, only Duggan remains today. Did any of them foresee the Family Pantry expanding the way it did? Duggan said he certainly didn’t.
“Never in my wildest dreams did I ever feel it would grow to what it is today,” he said. He keeps tabs on the operation through his daughter, Elizabeth, who works a volunteer shift every Saturday morning.
“I’m very proud of what we did, and I’m proud of the people that work there now,” Duggan said. Thirty years later, it’s still about people helping their neighbors.
“No question about that,” he said. “People on the whole are very caring, and we’ve certainly found that with all the volunteers we’ve had over the years.”
Contribute to The Chronicle’s summertime Helping Neighbors campaign by sending a tax-deductible contribution to The Family Pantry, 133 Queen Anne Rd., Harwich, MA 02645, writing “Helping Neighbors” in the memo line. Donors can also text the word “hunger” to 80100 to donate $20, or donate online by clicking here. The Chronicle will publish a list of donors each week.