Stocked for the season

Spirit of Giving: Jaffrey Food Pantry

  • Pictures from the Jaffrey Food Pantry Tuesday morning during one of two weekly food pick ups.
  • Pictures from the Jaffrey Food Pantry Tuesday morning during one of two weekly food pick ups.

JAFFREY — The shelves are stocked high with cans and boxed goods, the fridge is packed with eggs and veggies and the freezer is loaded with meat donated by a local market.

Requests made to Jaffrey’s food pantry have been especially high this year, but so have donations. The organization has piled away lots of food for the winter behind an increased marketing effort, an abundance of goodwill from the community and the hallmark hard work from a dedicated group of volunteers.

It’s that local connection, as much as the abundance of food, that brings locals into the pantry.

One food pantry visitor expressed the difference it makes to see friendly volunteers. “This food pantry is wonderful,” Bobbie Grant of Jaffrey said Tuesday. “They always have smiles on their faces and those things are important to people.”

She said she would never have thought she would be in a situation that necessitated going to a food pantry. “I’ve enjoyed coming here. I wouldn’t go anywhere else. They’re so helpful,” Grant said.

Like many of the pantries in towns across the Monadnock region, the Jaffrey pantry has become an ever-growing resource since it first set up shop in a single room at the United Church of Jaffrey in 1977. Now, according to long-time church member and treasurer for the food pantry, Owen Houghton of Jaffrey, the food pantry has grown so much that it has taken over the space in the church’s empty shelter and several old Sunday school classrooms.

“The hunger need increased so we [volunteers] used the shelter as an office and storage space,” Houghton said at the pantry Tuesday morning. “Sunday school attendance had gone way down so we moved into old classrooms for more space.”

Kathleen LaRou of Jaffrey, a volunteer for 10 years, said Tuesday that the pantry saw around 670 people in the month of October alone. From January until this week, LaRou said the pantry has seen around 6,300 people.

Volunteers were not sure what caused the increase in October but they say they are getting the word out about pantry and the need for donations.

“A lot of kids get meals in schools and even after school started the increase in people kept going up, lots of food stamps,” Houghton said. “There has been better advertising, more marketing like signs and fliers around town, church bulletins for three churches and stories in the paper.”

“We wouldn’t be able to do it without the dedicated volunteers, and a lot of volunteers are older,” LaRou said. “My mother [June LaRou] is 87 and she’s here all the time.”

Houghton recognized that first-time visitors to the food pantry have some anxiety. “But this is what we’re here for, to help people out and to help get them back to where they may become a volunteer,” Houghton replied. “The volunteers are super.”

The food pantry is overseen by the justice in peace group at the church and the pantry team has 19 volunteers. Houghton said the two main coordinators for the food pantry are Kathleen and June LaRou, who were both very busy Tuesday morning during one of the food pick-up times.

Although food and money donations do come from individuals, local businesses and groups are big contributors to the pantry. Houghton mentioned Hannaford, the New Hampshire Food Bank and the Bean Group ans big contributors.

“We wouldn’t be able to survive without Hannaford [in Rindge]. They give us all this frozen meat and breads,” LaRou said.“Last winter we had no tuna, no mac and cheese, and right now we’re over-flowing. It’s the time of year that people give a lot because of the season.”

Houghton agreed there is a lot of giving around the holidays. “I hope people will give more throughout the year. The hunger need continues, it’s not just from Thanksgiving through Christmas,” Houghton said.

With donated money, the food pantry will frequently go shopping at stores like Hannaford and Market Basket. “I would like to see more support from Market Basket,” Houghton said. “We purchase a lot of protein from them, but they won’t do the gifting like Hannaford does.”

He said Hannaford will donate other food gifts when pantry volunteers make purchases. This year, purchases exceeded donations by a fairly small margin, Houghton said.

Jaffrey residents can pick up food at the pantry at 54 Main Street on Tuesdays from 10 a.m. until 12:30 p.m. and Wednesdays from 6 p.m. until 8 p.m.

The food pantry volunteers go beyond helping people who come to the pantry. “If there’s a fire in town and there’s a family in need, we’re right there with whatever is needed, food, gift cards,” Houghton said.

Lindsey Arceci can be reached at 924-7172, ext. 232, larceci@ledgertranscript.com.

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