WESTFIELD-As the Westfield Food Pantry marks its 30th year, a goal of raising $30,000 has been set for its annual fundraiser Westfield Walks for the Food Pantry.
Rebecca Hart, director, noted that from the food pantry’s humble beginnings in 1986 through a mission of St. John’s Lutheran Church, there is still a need to provide fresh, healthy food to city residents less fortunate.
“For our fiscal year ending this month, we will have provided more than 200,000 pounds of food to 2,400 registered Westfield households,” said Hart in her office on Meadow Street, adjacent to the food pantry distribution center.
“I don’t see the number of clients receding any time soon,” she added.
Hart noted that after the 2008 recession, the food pantry saw a “surge” from 10 to 15 percent in those seeking assistance.
“Since that time the food pantry has doubled the number of households it serves,” she said. “We are seeing people who are unemployed, underemployed, have lost a second or third job, or are supporting their parents who have moved in with them.”
Hart added she is seeing more working people use the service who used to donate to the food pantry.
“When the food pantry started it was serving those chronically in poverty,” said Hart. “Today we are seeing more working families who are dealing with the high cost of living and stagnant wages.”
Hart acknowledges that the pantry’s operating budget is approximately $80,000, and she does not receive federal or state funding.
We are very lean,” said Hart, adding, “We do receive a small stipend from a HUD/CDB grant but it is generous donations from individuals, churches, businesses and organizations that help us fulfill a basic need to feed others.”
The annual two-mile walk is slated Oct. 16 and leaves from St. John’s Lutheran Church. Registration is underway and can be done online at www.westfieldfoodpantry.com or by stopping by during office hours – Mondays, Tuesdays and Fridays from 10 a.m. to noon or Thursdays from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m.
“There is no minimum cost to register,” said Hart. “Walkers are also welcome to collect donations from friends and family members as sponsors. A T-shirt is given to any walker who donates a minimum of $25 to the walk.”
Contributions are tax-deductible as allowed by law and a portion of the proceeds from the event will be donated to International Hunger Relief.
Cash donations at any time of the year are especially helpful to ensure that the food pantry continues to provide healthy food year round.
“With cash donations it allows us so much greater buying power,” said Hart, noting she negotiates prices with the Western Massachusetts Food Bank and local retailers.
During a visit to the food pantry, Friday mornings tend to be “busy,” according to eight-year volunteer Robert Bristow.
“I enjoy meeting people and want to lend a hand to help them,” said Bristow. “I’m saddened we have to do this but people need food.”
Jeff Castonguay, also a volunteer for eight years, echoed those sentiments.
“I like to give back to the community and it’s a great feeling to help provide a vital and basic need,” said Castonguay, who also collects desserts and breads on weekends from the local Big Y’s and Stop & Shop.
For Barbara Bogacz, who has volunteered for more than five years checking in clients, she sees the need in the community and wants to serve others.
“I want to give back to the community and have enjoyed volunteering with organizations including the Westfield Food Pantry over the years,” said Bogacz.
For Hart, she is thankful on many fronts – for the generous donations from the community and the volunteers who make the food pantry run smoothly.
“What makes me most joyful is when I see a client outside the pantry and they explain how their circumstances have changed,” said Hart. “They are grateful for a job or affordable housing and add they were so grateful the food pantry was there to help feed their family when times were tough.”
Hart also acknowledged she “feels responsible” for feeding 1,200 people each month and added 55 percent are children and 15 percent are seniors.
“We want to feed everyone well with quality food,” said Hart. “We also want to level the playing field and know the importance of ensuring that all kids receive healthy food to eat.”
Organizations, businesses and churches including the Episcopal Church of the Atonement on Court Street are also stepping up to aid the Westfield Food Pantry in the coming months. On Sept. 24 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., an Artisans & Crafters for Hunger Fall Craft Fair is planned at the church. Persons interested in participating in the event are asked to contact Gail via email at [email protected] for an application. Those attending the event will also be encouraged to bring a nonperishable food item to add to the pantry’s shelves.
Also this past Saturday, Ameriprise Financial advisers in West Springfield joined a nationwide effort by Ameriprise in partnership with Feeding America by hosting a document shredding event at its offices on Interstate Drive. Anyone who brought documents to shred was asked to donate nonperishable food donations and all donations were delivered to the Westfield Food Pantry on Saturday afternoon.