Quabbin food drive volunteers do what they can to meet overwhelming need

North Quabbin Food-A-Thon volunteers do what they can to fill an overwhelming need

  • Peter Mallet and Armand Bouthillier, volunteers for the North Quabbin Food-A-Thon, sort food donations into boxes to be distributed to area food pantries in the back of a truck on North Main Street in Orange on Tuesday. Recorder Staff/Matt Burkhartt

  • Pink Hamilton, a volunteer for the North Quabbin Food-A-Thon for about the past six years, stands in the center of East Main Street in Orange collecting donations, Tuesday, May 17. Recorder Staff/Matt Burkhartt

  • Raymond Grasso, a volunteer for the North Quabbin Food-A-Thon, collects a donation from a driver on North Main Street in Orange, Tuesday, May 17. Recorder Staff/Matt Burkhartt

  • Food donations collected during the North Quabbin Food-A-Thon, into boxes to be distributed to area food pantries, in Orange where volunteers were collecting donations from passing drivers, Tuesday, May 17. Recorder Staff/Matt Burkhartt

  • Volunteers for the North Quabbin Food-A-Thon sort food donations into boxes to be distributed to area food pantries in the back of a truck on North Main Street in Orange. Recorder Staff/Matt Burkhartt

  • Volunteers unload the last delivery of the day for the North Quabbin Food-A-Thon, a Pete’s Tire Barn truck filled with from Hannaford Supermarket. RECORDER STAFF/CHRIS CURTIS

Recorder Staff
Published: 5/17/2016 11:10:46 PM

ORANGE — Intrepid volunteers stood in the middle of the street for 12 hours Tuesday, collecting cash donations from drivers as their counterparts in Athol did the same.

Food donations piled up in a parking lot by the Orange intersection as volunteers unloaded trucks and shared boxes out equally among five parking spaces reserved for each of the area meal programs benefiting from the annual North Quabbin Food-A-Thon.

Richard Kwiatkowski, who founded the drive with radio station WJDF and Athol-Orange Television 13 years ago during his tenure as town administrator, said the drive was closing in on $22,000 in cash Tuesday evening. With the final truckload of food from Hannaford Supermarket, the parking lot held 11,000 pounds of food.

The drive raises about $20,000 and up to $30,000 each year since the start 13 years ago, but Kwiatkowski is realistic about what that means.

“Unfortunately, all of this will run out in the next few months. … You could do this a couple of times over the course of the year. But it is what it is,” he said.

The people behind the effort

Kwiatkowski said the day is a credit to the more than a hundred volunteers and the pantries who help people year-in and year-out, and a good example to the children who get involved.

Still wearing his reflective vest a little before 6 p.m., the close of the fundraiser, Jared LaBonte of Orange had been outside since 5:30 a.m.

LaBonte said he volunteers every year because he knows there’s a need, and after hours of walking up to cars with a plastic bucket, he was pleased with the response. “I was surprised, the way things are economically, they gave out quite a bit of money,” LaBonte said.

Andrea Leibson, the new director of the Franklin County Community Meals Program, was observing the fundraiser for the first time.

“I’ve been to almost all of the meetings, but I’ve never experienced today, so it’s interesting to see,” she said.

Growing need

A share of the food collected will be distributed to families in need through the Orange Food Pantry, nearby on East Main Street, and a share of the money will help to keep the lights on and the rent paid.

The recession may or may not be over, depending on who you ask, but it isn’t over here. Leibson said the pantry is serving more people.

“We have three meal sites. In Greenfield and in Orange the people attending the meals have increased 20 percent over the first four months of this year as compared to last year, and we’re seeing new people,” Leibson said.

Some of that she attributes to the factory economy, with Rodney Hunt-Fontaine winding down to a close.

“Rodney Hunt is closing and 200 jobs are going to be lost, there’s at least a couple factories that can draw some of those jobs in, but not 200 jobs’ worth,” she said.

Meanwhile, state food aid benefits have changed, pushing some who would have used the SNAP program, formerly known as food stamps, from grocery stores to greater reliance on food pantries. Orange happens to be among the communities exempt from that change thanks to particularly high unemployment and a lack of jobs, but the pantry doesn’t turn away families from outside the town or the county.

Leibson said the pantry serves about 100 families a week from Orange and the surrounding area. With one visit allowed per month per family, that’s at least 400 distinct families each month. In 2015, the Orange pantry alone helped 16,145 people from 5,333 families with 262,538 pounds of food.

Tuesday’s collection was split between the FCCMP Orange pantry and meal, the Wendell Good Neighbors Community Food Program, Our Lady Immaculate Church, the St. Vincent de Paul/St. Mary’s Church pantry and the Salvation Army Food Pantry.

Frank and Kathy Schiappa of Orange have volunteered with the Food-A-Thon since the beginning, and were out again as always Tuesday. “We just wanted to help people, there’s a big need in Orange … a lot of people don’t have food to eat,” Kathy Schiappa said. They help run the St. Mary’s pantry, but for all the people they help they say there are many who go uncounted. “We’re trying to target the older people, but it’s harder to get them to come, they’re so proud, and they’re the ones that really need it. They choose between medicine or food,” Kathy Schiappa said.

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