Tuesday, April 28, 2009

CCV students lend helping hands at the Westford Food Shelf

The April 16 edition of the Mountain Gazette features a story titled CCV students lend helping hands at the Westford Food Shelf . The full text of this article is posted below. To read the original, and other articles from this edition, click here.

CCV students lend helping hands at the Westford Food Shelf
By Phyl Newbeck
Special to the Mountain Gazette

The Westford Food Shelf is getting some assistance in its own right these days. Members of a college nutrition class came to help out in March. That’s a good thing because according to one of the food shelf founders, Julia Andrews, there is high demand for their services.

For years, the Westford Food Shelf was run by a resident named Marian Stark and was based in her home. When she passed away, there was a void which was filled when Andrews and Lauren Curry decided that hungry Westford residents should not have to travel to Essex or Fairfield for food. Under their direction the new food shelf opened in June 2008. “When we started it was very slow,” said Andrews, “but it ramped up a lot more quickly than we thought it would.” By the third month of operation, twenty families were visiting the shelf. Since then, numbers have ranged between twenty and thirty. Andrews said she never expected to be serving more than twelve families during the first year of operation.

Andrews and Curry decided the work was too much to handle on their own. “The pace was unsustainable,” said Andrews, “and we immediately recognized that not sustaining it wasn’t an option. We needed additional boots on the ground.” Four local women joined them to form a fledgling Board of Directors in November, including Marian Stark’s daughter Carma and the pastor of the United Church of Westford where the food shelf is located.

Andrews believes time was on their side in setting up the food shelf. She and Curry started fundraising before the economy got bad, and when things plummeted, they were in a position to help the people who needed them. Andrews noted that whenever she makes a specific request to community members, say for toothpaste or tuna fish, the bins are full of what she requested. Still, she couldn’t have been more pleased when she learned that there were students coming to the rescue, as well.

Ellen Ammirato is a Westford resident who teaches a course in nutrition at the CCV Burlington site. She noted that there is a trend toward greater community service in education and she wanted to capitalize on that by helping her community. Therefore, Ammirato offered class credit to any student who was interested in assisting at the Westford Food Shelf. Two students from Milton were interested in doing just that.

Ammirato reported that the students helped set up prior to the distribution day and then returned on that day to restock items and help some patrons carry the groceries to their car. Ammirato said she was really impressed with how many community members came by on distribution day to provide fresh meat, fruit and vegetables for the Food Shelf. “It’s really nice to see that community support,” she said. “It’s also really nice to see such valuable items contributed.”

This year participation in community service was optional for Ammirato’s course, but next year she intends to make it mandatory, allowing students to choose the location that works best for them. “I think food insecurity is a very real issue considering the economy,” she said. “There is a real awareness, that even in a small community like Westford many people rely on the support from their community to get through this tough time. It’s everyone and anyone that’s being affected.”

Andrews was very pleased to have the students’ help. “I was out of town and nobody called me,” she said, “so I know it all went well. All the staples were gone. That means another month where hopefully people will have good food on their table.”

To help keep the pantry stocked, the food shelf will be hosting their second annual fundraising concert at the Red Brick Meeting House on May 30. Last year’s concert which featured Bobby Sweet attracted over forty people. Sweet is returning this year and will be joined by local singer/songwriter Patti Casey. Comcast is underwriting the cost of the concert which allows the organizers to lower the price to $8 from last year’s $10. All the proceeds will go towards the food shelf, including the purchase of gift cards so that residents can buy items which might not be available at the shelf.

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