The people make the pantry

Tuesday, July 10, 2018 2:39PM

Welcome, respect, community, sharing, warmth. The moment I first walked into the Peterborough Food Pantry, these were the words that resonated from the very walls.

Though it was after hours and the banter of customers and volunteers had faded with the day, evidence was all around. The shelves were tidy and well stocked, a whiteboard captured daily food selections, shopping lists that offered customers available food items were laid out on clip boards for the next day, and a volunteer schedule on the wall showed a well-oiled distribution of tasks and jobs.

There to greet me that first day was Chris Mann, the president of the board, with her warm smile and lively blue eyes. People. She said it again and again. That was what the food pantry is about – customers, volunteers, supporters, our community – people. The mission is to get food to those who need it and find the volunteers who naturally create a space of welcome and camaraderie.

I was there for an interview. Volunteer run, and community supported, the Peterborough Food Pantry has grown to the point that it serves more than 300 families, seniors and veterans from 13 local towns. They decided it was time to hire a part-time paid executive director, and I was interested.

A few weeks and a few interviews later I was thrilled to hear that I had received the job. It has been just over a month since I started, and my first impressions have been born out in spades. It takes upwards of 20 volunteers who donate approximately 70 hours of time each week to keep the food pantry running.

Summer at the food pantry is often even busier than the rest of the year. Come in any weekday between 9 and 12 you are likely to find a buzz of conversation and activity. The volunteers and customers greet each other by name and spend time catching up as they gather their food. One volunteer gives out hugs to all who want them. Kids, home for the summer, come in with their parents and happily choose the food they want. Each child gets a special snack bag filled with good food provided by members of All Saint’s Church. You can often find children checking out the bags and trading goodies as their parents shop.

One very welcome feature of summer at the food pantry is our produce cart full of locally grown fresh vegetables. These vegetables fly off the shelves. Customers trade recipes with each other and the volunteers. They then let us know how well it turned out the next time they visit. Thanks to our loyal donors, we have been able to purchase five shares at Farmer John’s Plot; a local community supported agriculture (CSA) farm. We also happily accept donations from backyard gardens, gleaners, and other farms. The more the better. Fresh veggies rarely stay on the shelves for long.

The sobering part of my job is realizing just how prevalent hunger is right here in our community. Hunger doesn’t take a vacation. With kids home and not receiving school meals, the food pantry becomes an especially important part of people’s lives. But what’s heartening is how determined this community is to combat hunger. Through our Green Bag Program, businesses across Peterborough provided fresh produce through the winter months. Restaurants and grocery stores in town donate food when they can. Individuals from all walks of life, including former customers, donate bags of food, and send monetary donations all year long. If you need food, there is a place to turn, our community has made sure of that.

On Saturday, July 14, we will hold our summer food drive at Shaw’s Market in Peterborough. These drives make a huge difference in helping to keep the Pantry shelves stocked. Please consider stopping by to pick up a can of soup or a box of cereal when you do your shopping. We’ll be right out front to collect it. If you can’t make it that day, food donations are accepted anytime we are open, Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m.

I am honored and thrilled to be taking on this important community role. Please feel free to reach out if you have food or talent to share, or simply have a question or two. The Peterborough Food Pantry is in the Peterborough Community Center at 25 Elm St.

Kathy Boss is the new executive director of the Peterborough Food Pantry. She can be reached at kathypborofp@gmail.com.