Community Exchange Turns 12 years old

Community Exchange turns 12 years old
By Sandy Donovan/ Guest Commentary
Thursday, June 23, 2005

On Friday, June 24, the Chelmsford Community Exchange will be officially 12 years old.
     As I reflect back over the years and see the changes that have happened it is hard to believe that literally thousands of lives have been affected for the better through this "Little pantry with the Big heart". A community, that had thought 12 years ago, found it hard to believe that people were struggling financial not only here but in other communities as well, but in less then a year was able to realize that many families were struggling with financial difficulties even though from the outside everything seemed perfect. Unfortunately these struggles have not stopped and seem to be escalating all the time. The average week of 35 to 40 families twelve years ago can be an average night at the food pantry. Two of our nights last week were just that. One night there was 46 families and another night 40 families not counting the other days we are opened.
     I remember on the Friday night 12 years ago when we were going to open officially for the first time, I wondered where we would get enough food to feed the families coming that night as we had plenty of canned vegetables but we only had one can of tuna. Helen Doyle, RN who was retiring from the Byam School had a canned good collection donated to us and were able to give out canned meat with the vegetables. What started out as only be able to give canned food every few weeks, with fresh produce every week slowly evolved into to giving canned food, cereal, meat, fresh produce and special foods for special diets to 5 days a week from November until June. From July until the week before Thanksgiving four times a week. People with 3 or more in their family can come twice a week but not two days in a row. What generally happens is with most people coming in the beginning for their family come twice but as times goes on they need to come only once a week, as bare cupboards start to fill up and for some over time once every few weeks to once a month.
     If it wasn't from every aspect of the community of Chelmsford and surrounding communities supporting us we would never be able to continue helping those facing financial difficulties. Food is the first to go and then clothing for growing children along with heat, etc,. in the winter months. Sometimes, when the budget allows it these days helping out with a prescription for those unable to obtain or afford medical insurance.
     We are feeling the pains of a very stretched budget as Worcester County Food Bank had dissolved our partnership last year claiming we were on the outskirts of Worcester County even though 9 other agencies were too. They wanted to control the communities we could give food to. We had always served the Greater Lowell area and beyond but for whatever reason Lois Paire and Jean McMurray would not let us appeal the decision, even though Second Harvest encourages their agencies to have formal appeals but does not pressure them into doing them. My son, William Donovan, who is a Executive Board member for business matters and lives in Chicago contacted the Executive Second Harvest in Chicago, Boston Food Bank and Worcester Bank but to no avail. So consequently, seventy to seventy-five percent of our food comes from the supermarkets. I have become a very familiar sight in the local stores with carts of food. I can quote prices from every store and also found a store in Lawrence that has monthly leader items at great prices, too. We go to Merrimack Valley Food Bank, which is an independent food bank cannot supply us with everything that Worcester was able to do. This food bank has been wonderful to us and all other agencies that go there but is on a smaller scale so is unable to meet the needs we could with Worcester Food Bank. We lost our MFAP allocation last year when our partnership was dissolved with WCFB. This consisted of 1,500-2,000 pounds of free food every month. Until this day I can't understand why they would not let us get this monthly donation of free food until July of this year when the contract expires for the year. We will be able to sign up with MVFB in Lowell for this program but the allocation is at a lower level because of their size and number of participants. But for us it will be a blessing for whatever we are able to get.
      The $12,500 I spent at Worcester for a year is gone within a few months shopping at the supermarket. I am into nutritious food not junk as I feel it is important for people to have balanced diets as far as I am able to do it. We try to the best of our ability to have foods for those that are diabetic and on other special diets. We never pre-bag and treat each family or person individually with respect and dignity as they enter our doors.
     The van I had last year was able to retire with 244,000 miles on it thanks to the generosity of the same family who donated this van with giving us their 1977 Plymouth Voyager and a anonymous donor paying for the repairs for this donated vehicle.
     Ken's Foods in Marlborough continue to bless us with cases and cases of dressing and barbecue sauce.
     Henry and Donna Parlee of Parlee's Farm are staunch donors to the pantry, too. They are giving us strawberries free of charge this year, let us use their truck for picking up large donations, temporary storage space along with many other ways of supporting us. Donna Parlee represents us on the local "Good Friday Walk for Hunger" board and Henry works at the pantry with us when he is able to do so.
     My daughter, Mary Christie, who has been involved with us since the beginning is a consultant for Pampered Chef is asking people to have parties for us to raise funds. She will give two-third of her earnings for us. A party for the food pantry will be from June 24 through the July 11. People can order through e-mail, calling her or contacting me for more info.

Her Web site is:

Pampered Chef- Mary Christie (daughter)

 All the information needed for this is on that site.

My web site is:

Community Exchange Inc.
http:// www.homepage.mac.com/poptech/Pantry/Pantry.html

 My mailing address is:
 PO Box 394, Chelmsford, MA 01824
telephone number is 978-250-3818
e-mail: vze2gt3p@verizon.net

     Many businesses, schools, churches, organizations and individuals have helped us over the years in many communities. The town has blessed us with free space and we are very grateful to Bernie Lynch, Town Manager and the Selectmen for this space. This space, as small as it is, has provided more comfort and rescued more people from hunger and other disasters facing them then people realize.
     We have many volunteers that work in different aspects of the pantry. We have a volunteer that picks up donated products from Whole Foods every Tuesday for us in Bedford, volunteers that pick up donated bread products every Wednesday and Thursday for us from Panera Breads in Drum Hill. This does not count the volunteers that work at the pantry, pick up from bins at the library, Market Basket, and Stop/Shop. The list is endless of those that help support us on a monetary basis, pick up other donations and do the many other things to keep us open to help others.
     As our theme last year for fund raising when I go to local churches to speak was "Giving our wants to fill the needs of others" is certainly what all our community does to help others in anyway they can. To all of you I say thank you and God's blessings and love to all of you.
     We are a very blessed community. We are certainly, "One family in God."

     Sandy Donovan is the executive director of the Chelmsford Community Exchange.
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