Helping Neighbors Sets $100K Goal For Family Pantry

By: Alan Pollock

Topics: Hunger

The Family Pantry’s bustling headquarters in North Harwich processes tons of food. ALAN POLLOCK PHOTO

NORTH HARWICH – On a day dedicated to gratitude, even Cape Codders who are struggling to make ends meet are able to give thanks with a feast today, courtesy of the Family Pantry of Cape Cod. So it’s no coincidence that Thanksgiving is the day The Cape Cod Chronicle launches its Helping Neighbors campaign each year, leveraging the generosity of its readers to support the Pantry.

“There are strong indicators that the next year could be among the busiest in the Family Pantry’s history,” Cape Cod Chronicle Publisher Henry C. Hyora said. “Our job is to help make sure they’re ready to meet that need.”

The number of people relying on the Pantry to help put food on the table has been steadily increasing, up 37 percent one month, 38 percent the next, then 41 percent.

“And then all of a sudden, we’re at 45 in September and 71 percent in October,” Family Pantry Executive Director Christine Menard said recently. “And the problem is this: I’m afraid this hasn’t peaked yet because literally today is the first cold day we’ve gotten, so they haven’t had to face any of the heating bills yet.”

Serving clients from one end of the Cape to the other, the Family Pantry relies on contributions from Helping Neighbors and other donors to carry out its work. From now through New Year’s, The Chronicle will be reserving space in each edition to tell stories about the Pantry, its volunteers and the people who rely on it. We’ll also be publishing the names of donors each week.

There is another compelling reason to give during the campaign, Menard noted. Chatham residents David and Gail Oppenheim have agreed to match donations, dollar for dollar, up to the campaign’s goal of $100,000.

“The intention is to leverage that gift as much as we can,” she said. “David and Gail have been longtime supporters of The Pantry, not only financially. They’ve always given us 100 turkeys every year for turkey day.” Their businesses have supported the Pantry, and they’ve also done so as individuals, Menard said. “They’ve been in the mix since almost the very beginning,” she said.

As a “choice” pantry, the Family Pantry allows clients to select the nutritious foods that their families will use and enjoy. Visiting the Pantry’s headquarters in North Harwich, clients fill out a shopping list, which is passed on to a volunteer shopper. Pushing a carriage, that person goes from station to station behind the scenes, adding baked goods, produce, proteins, dairy items and other goods to the grocery bags. Each client also receives a “surprise and delight” offering that might include a dessert or treat.

While a number of clients are seniors on fixed incomes, most people who turn to the Family Pantry are working one or more jobs to help meet the high cost of living on Cape Cod. By freeing up some of the money they would have otherwise used to buy groceries, the Pantry helps people deal with the high cost of housing, Menard said. Many families who are able to pay their bills each month without outside help are a single crisis away from needing assistance. It might be a medical emergency, a leaky roof or something as mundane as a broken-down car that pushes a local family over the financial brink, she said.

The Pantry’s assistance isn’t limited to food. After a quick and simple application process, new clients are offered referrals for other types of help. They can apply for fuel assistance through the Family Pantry, and can even stop by the free boutique to pick up gently-used clothing for themselves or their children. Families get special food baskets before Thanksgiving, and can sign up to have their children take part in the annual holiday toy drive.

To contribute to The Chronicle's Helping Neighbors campaign, visit www.CapeCodChronicle.com and click the blue Helping Neighbors logo on the right. You can also mail a tax-deductible contribution to The Family Pantry, 133 Queen Anne Rd., Harwich, MA 02645, or call 508-432-6519 to donate by credit card.