, Gloucester, MA

November 20, 2006

Food pantry hands out turkey dinners to 400 families

By Nesli Orhon , Correspondent

It took the Open Door/Cape Ann Food Pantry only three days to distribute 400 Thanksgiving turkeys to families throughout Cape Ann.

More than 30 volunteers started the effort Friday by helping to sort, prepare and distribute donated food for a full Thanksgiving dinner for needy residents, according to Julie LaFontaine, the food pantry's executive director.

The dinners included a can of cranberry sauce, a can of pumpkin pie filling, 5 pounds of potatoes, a can of gravy, a squash, 3 pounds of onions, a pound of carrots, a box of stuffing, a tube of buttermilk biscuits, and a 10- to 12-pound turkey.

"It's amazing how well this all comes together," LaFontaine said. "With the donations and volunteers we receive from this community, we are able to make the holidays a little bit easier for those who may not be able to usually provide a turkey dinner for their family."

The food pantry began distributing entire Thanksgiving packages, instead of simply the turkey, in 2002 and has seen the number of families served almost double in the past four years. More than $8,000 in donations is received to put together the 400 Thanksgiving dinners each year.

Benjamin Greenlay, 50, of Gloucester said he has been coming to the food pantry for three years and it has helped him make ends meet now that he is retired.

"I am thankful I have this place. Without it, I would be lost," said Greenlay, who came to the pantry last year to receive a Thanksgiving dinner. "Without this place, I wouldn't get any nutrition. I would probably have to eat at Burger King."

Jamillia McCurdy, 59, of Gloucester began visiting the pantry about two years ago and said the people there make her want to come back.

"This is a wonderful place with wonderful people," McCurdy said. "The whole experience is fantastic. They have a variety of foods and the people are friendly and respectful."

McCarthy said she visits the pantry about twice a week to help augment her grocery shopping and came Friday to receive her holiday meal.

LaFontaine said the pantry helps about 400 low-income families meet their nutritional needs each month, whether it is through the pantry itself, the daily meals it provides or through the many food programs the organization hosts. The pantry helps about 12,030 families each year, with 2,500 of them coming from Gloucester.

Becky Sumner, a Beverly resident who has been working with the pantry for four years, said she is amazed each year at the response from the community.

"It's awesome that we are able to give a turkey dinner to anyone who needs it," Sumner said. "The people who come here are just happy to be able to put food on their table and provide a full dinner at their home during the holidays."

Andrew Deschenes, 13, of Gloucester, a first-time pantry volunteer, said his family got him interested in volunteering to help the needy.

"I just wanted to help out other people," said Deschenes, who was at the pantry for two hours Friday afternoon helping to set up and distribute the Thanksgiving dinners. "I was looking forward to coming here and I told them that I would help them for as long as they needed me."

Endicott College sent students to volunteer last year and had students from its Community Service Club out to help again Friday. Stephanie Manning, 19, of Cape Cod said it was her first time at the Cape Ann Food Pantry, but she intended to help the pantry distribute turkeys over the weekend as well.

"I think this means a lot to the people who come here," Manning said. "It's a chance for them to be able to see that others care about them and will give them a hand during a time of year that might normally be difficult."

The pantry and kitchen are closed Thanksgiving Day, but the American Legion offers a free meal in its hall during the day and delivers meals. Wellspring House, a nonprofit organization that shares the Emerson Avenue building with Open Door/Cape Ann Food Pantry, takes people shopping for Thanksgiving groceries.

The food pantry is a nonprofit, charitable organization formed in 1978 to help feed the needy in its five-community service area. LaFontaine said those who are eligible for assistance have low or moderate incomes based on federal guidelines.

LaFontaine said the pantry receives food from several sources. Along with community support and food from the Boston Food Bank, the major nonprofit food distributor in the state, businesses give their surplus food to the pantry. Shaw's supermarket in Gloucester and Crosby's Market in Manchester and Hamilton give bread and pastry items on a consistent basis, while Gorton's, the U.S. Department of Commerce, Whole Foods in Pigeon Cove and Allied Cold Storage in Gloucester donate fish regularly.

Behind Pantry doors

5 years since the Open Door/Cape Ann Pantry first began providing Thanksgiving dinner packages for those in need.

20 dollars is the total cost for each dinner package received by families for Thanksgiving.

28 years since the pantry was formed in 1978 to help feed the needy in the Cape Ann area.

400 total packages distributed for Thanksgiving.

2,500 families in Gloucester visit the pantry each year.

12,030 families throughout the Cape Ann area visit the pantry each year.

25,000 pounds of food will be collected during the pantry's local food drive in November.