Athol High School’s food bank a resource for those in need

  • Athol High School Food Pantry Director Shirley Mitchell (foreground) and Athol Royalston Middle School student Ariana Ingresa, who was spending her first afternoon as a volunteer for the pantry. STAFF PHOTO/GREG VINE

  • STAFF PHOTO/GREG VINE

For The Recorder
Published: 11/29/2021 4:47:43 PM
Modified: 11/29/2021 4:47:11 PM

ATHOL — Many local families sat down to a holiday meal last Thursday and were thankful for, among other things, the Athol High School Food Pantry for providing much of the food they were about to enjoy. And, despite the help that’s always appreciated during the holidays, Director Shirly Mitchell stressed the food pantry is a year-round resource.

Mitchell said food supply problems have indeed affected some food banks, but added the AHS Food Pantry has not been impacted by supply chain difficulties or other issues affecting availability, in part because of student initiative.

“We go to the Worcester County Food Bank twice a month,” she said, “and even from when we first started last December to right now, you can definitely see a decrease in what’s there. They do their best. People are donating but it hasn’t been enough to make up for things that aren’t accessible on the shelves. So, we do see a decrease,”

However, the initiative of a couple of students, she explained, helped to make the difference for her operation.

“Our school just did a school-wide food drive competition,” said Mitchell. “It was started here from the Community and Family Center. A kid came to me and said, ‘I want to just do something.’ So, they did this huge food drive competition. It was called the Hunger Bowl. It was their first time doing it and there were 2,630 items that came in from that, which filled those shelves up, which is amazing for us.”

Mitchell said the winning school was Royalston Community School, despite its relatively small size.

“It’s interesting, because we know Royalston Community School has fewer students than the other schools, so we figured it on percentage,” she said. “They definitely kicked some butt. We are so grateful for all the schools contributing to us, and it helped make the holidays a little bit easier for a lot of people.”

In addition to items that could be chosen from its shelves and vegetable bins, the food pantry also gave out turkey pan baskets.

“Worcester County Food Bank,” Mitchell continued, “was able to, instead of giving us turkeys, gave us gift cards. So, families could take that gift card and they could use it for a meat or choose to use it for something else.”

In addition to the Worcester County Food Bank and individual donations, Mitchell said the food pantry also receives help from the Farm School.

“We get fresh milk from them,” she said. “Because harvest is pretty much over, we get potatoes, carrots and garlic. They’re great about that. When we realized that we got more than we are giving out, I called the Salvation Army and said, ‘We’ve got an abundance. Can we help out?’”

Mitchell said the AHS Food Pantry also assisted people with applications for the Salvation Army food baskets.

“We’re not going to refuse anybody who needs some help,” Mitchell stressed. “They’re here for a reason. Some people are looking for food and some people are just looking for that social connection, that very basic need.

“You’re going to see a lot of people who say, ‘We’re employed but we still have this need. It’s not enough.’ Even though there are places out there that are offering jobs, it’s not enough to make it livable — the wages.”

Mitchell said food insecurity can also be seen within the walls of district schools.

“And here in the school district, kids are hungry.” she saiThey need this. So, we’re reaching out to families and saying, ‘We have access to this.’ And if there’s a need — if someone in the community reaches out to us and they don’t have transportation — we have people here who are willing to do delivery, if they need it.”

Anyone needing assistance can call 978-249-2436, ext. 314, or simply show up between 2:30 and 4 p.m. on Tuesday, or between 4 and 5:30 p.m. The food pantry is accessed through the rear entrance of the high school, on the Lake Ellis side.

Greg Vine can be reached at gvineadn@gmail.com


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