Family Pantry Gets Fresh With Clients

By: Alan Pollock

Topics: Hunger

Tomatoes ripen on the vine at the Family Pantry’s garden in North Harwich. ALAN POLLOCK PHOTO

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NORTH HARWICH If the goal of a food pantry was just to fill bellies, the shelves would be stocked with starchy foods like instant mashed potatoes and stuffing. But the Family Pantry of Cape Cod focuses on providing nutritious foods as a means of helping clients get healthier and live better.

Key to that philosophy has been a concerted effort to increase the amount of fresh food offered to clients, and the Family Pantry now ensures that more than 35 percent of its offerings are fresh produce items.

“If you eat better, there’s a trickle-down effect,” Family Pantry Executive Director Christine Menard said. A diet rich in fresh produce helps reduce blood sugar and blood pressure, according to data collected by Barnstable County public health nurses who visit the Family Pantry each week as part of their Foods to Encourage program. Last year, clients taking part in Foods to Encourage for just six weeks saw their blood sugar decrease 23 percent on average, with a 9 percent drop in systolic blood pressure.

Better health means that Family Pantry clients are happier and more productive, and they place less of a demand on the health care system.

“It’s better for individuals, and it’s better for society,” Menard said. While they’re picking up other nutritious foods, Family Pantry clients can choose from a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, generally around 30 different varieties each week.

But for food pantries, providing more produce is an expensive proposition, since nonperishable foods are simpler to store, easier to handle, and generally cheaper. Still, over the years, the Family Pantry of Cape Cod has found creative ways to work more fresh foods into clients’ shopping bags. The key has been community partnerships, Menard said.

Working with members of the Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen’s Alliance, the Family Pantry has been able to provide flash-frozen locally-caught seafood, a great source of protein that would likely be too expensive for many Pantry clients to purchase in the fish market.

Then there’s the partnership with Rory’s Organic Market, which helps fill the produce section each week. The small business donates a pound of produce for every pound of weighed produce that their customers buy.

“That’s been amazing,” Menard said. Through its Good for Good initiative, Rory’s has provided 34,000 pounds of fresh produce to Pantry clients in just five months.

The Family Pantry also gets donations of fresh produce from Cape Abilities, and from Chatham Bars Inn’s farm in Brewster. CBI Garden Manager Josh Schiff provides regular shipments of greens, radishes, tomatoes, “everything,” Menard said. The quality is incredible, as well. “His worst stuff is the best stuff you’ve ever seen,” she added.

For the Family Pantry, the push for local food started at home. A dedicated group of volunteers built and planted the large garden behind their North Harwich warehouse, and they tend the plot with great care. Last year, the garden yielded about 5,000 pounds of fresh produce.

Does the Pantry get donations of zucchini and summer squash from backyard gardeners each year? Menard laughs.

“That’s why we don’t grow so much summer squash,” she quipped.

As summer comes to an end, The Cape Cod Chronicle’s Helping Neighbors campaign will be drawing to a close. Thanks to an anonymous donor, a dollar-for-dollar matching grant remains in effect, up to $5,000.

 

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 click here to donate online. The Chronicle will publish a list of donors each week.