People I speak with often are surprised to hear Newton has so many food pantries; to my knowledge, there are three. The topic of Newton food pantries often comes up in one of those conversations where I explain the vibrant character of the city and how its residents come from a wide variety of backgrounds, cultures and, of course, incomes.
But I can tell you now: the Newton food pantry in Waban is one of the busiest places in the city on a Wednesday afternoon.
Last week, I volunteered for a couple hours at the food pantry, which is located in the basement of the Waban branch library, as part of Patch's Give 5 Program as well as AOL/Huffington Post's 30-Day Service Challenge.
Volunteering has been a big part of Patch culture since it began; I've volunteered with the Newton Free Library, ArtStreet and several other organizations through the Give 5 program. Now that Patch's parent company, AOL, has teamed up with the Huffington Post, we were also able to volunteer as part of AOL/HuffPost 30-Day Service Challenge.
Last Wednesday at the food pantry was certainly a new experience for me. While I've participated in collections for food pantries, I've never worked inside one before. I learned that a great amount of care goes into the amount of food each person gets, to assure all the pantry patrons get what they need.
Those who qualify for the pantry are allowed a trip once per month and generally get referred by church clergy or a community social worker. Their names are kept on file as well as the number of people in the family and they must check in each time they visit the pantry. After a pantry worker finds their file and checks off their name, a volunteer takes the patron around the pantry shelf by shelf, bin by bin.
According to a few pantry volunteers, most of the food comes from the Greater Boston Food Bank. The pantry also gets donations from local supermarkets, families and organizations such as the Boy Scouts and churches. In fact, on Wednesday one little boy -- a student at Angier Elementary -- popped in the back door to quietly drop off some food from his family.
It's tiring to walk in circles through each section with all the patrons, making sure they get the right items. And although it sounds cliche, to see the gratitude on their faces as they leave the basement with bags of food truly is rewarding -- wiping away any signs of my exhaustion.
The people who come through the basement door are worth the hours of walking from shelf to shelf. Some people are new to town, some are regulars, and some are coming by to pick up food for their parents who cannot leave the house.
And then there are the great women I worked with: Debbie Horwitz, Anne Levin, Bonnie Bender and several others. These women are here most Wednesday mornings stocking and sorting food and then all afternoon handing out. I enjoyed their company just as much as I enjoyed helping the community.
Needless to say, I'll be back to help before another Give 5 day.
To find out more about the Newton food pantries, visit the city's food pantry web page. Non-perishable donations are accepted at the Waban branch Wednesday mornings between 9:30-10:30 a.m. and the pantry is open every Wednesday from 1:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. as well as two Saturdays a month from 11 a.m.-noon. Call ahead to check hours.