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Food Pantry Spreads Wings
By Sandy Donovan
Thursday, October 26, 2006 - Updated: 08:46 AM EST

The Chelmsford Community Exchange became a teenager this year as it started it’s thirteenth year. Like all teenagers it is spreading its wings and reaching out to other areas where there is a need for families that are having financially difficulties and have a need to get food that they cannot otherwise afford to buy.
    At this timeframe we are working out the logistics of being responsible for giving food to the families that come to St. Patrick’s Church in Lowell that cannot get to us in Chelmsford because of lack of transportation. This will free up the monies for St. Patrick’s St. Vincent DePaul Society to help in other needed areas as this is a financially poor parish. Also, we still help St. Patrick’s School in Lowell with drinks and snacks as many of the families cannot afford to buy them for their children. This school never refuses anyone because of lack of funding from a family. This helps both the school and the families.
    Also, we are working with Sr. Jennifer at St. Patrick’s School who is in charge of the adult classes to get food to those that cannot get our pantry. It is just a matter of working out the logistics of this project too.
    All should be in place before Thanksgiving.
    As usual it has been an interesting year for us as we began the year by planning a funeral, scripture readings, music and wake service for a family. We worked with Dolan Funeral in North Chelmsford which was very generous to the family.
    Our Wednesday nights have changed slightly as the number of Brazilian families has lowered for the moment we have opened this night up to the African community, too, as their food likes and dislikes are similar. Because there is no language barrier with the African community they have a choice of either Wednesday night or Friday.
    Our numbers within our own and surrounding communities are on the rise again as the colder weather sets in and a family’s income has to stretch further more then it did in the summer. Thanksgiving and Christmas are fast approaching us. Our number of seniors needing help has risen, especially in our own community.
    There are many hidden pockets of families struggling to make ends meet and with such low federal income guidelines it leaves many families "out in the cold" to get the much needed help to make ends meet. According to the guidelines for this year a family of four is not considered on the poverty threshold unless their income is $20,000 or less and for some programs that can go to 200 percent or $40,000 for this size family. Archaic guidelines need to be re-configured to make these guidelines higher and more realistic. but until that happens for many families the only option is a food pantry. We do not ask income levels as it is hard enough for families to make that first step in coming to a food pantry. I keep it as confidential as I can and this is why I have separate drop off hours from the food pick up hours.
    Families tell us that we help save them from $60 to $120 a week for food which makes it possible for them to use the money saved in other needed areas.
    The special foods needed for people on restricted diets has made major positive health changes for some who adhere to their diet and take my advice. One woman’s blood sugar was 347 the first week she came to us about 6 weeks ago and now it is averaging 123 as of last week. She only eats the food we give her and listens to the advice for what she needs to buy at the store. Another woman’s blood pressure lowered, too. Many stories to tell but not enough space to write about them.
    I am very strict about people’s diets and only give them the food they are allowed to eat at the pantry to the best of our ability at the pantry. It costs the pantry a lot of money to buy these necessary foods for people but it is worth it when you see the results of a healthier and happier person. People know I care. My nickname is "Mother Bear" because I do care but have a tender heart at the same time (which I keep hidden) but can say no very easily to a diabetic about getting sweets from us. My volunteers and I take the time to read the labels on the packages to make sure it is within that person’s dietary limits. Many times I have heard I learn more from you then my doctor. I tell them I just read a lot and try to encourage people to educate themselves, too.
    For me this is God’s pantry and we are all one family in God no matter how we view Him. God works thru all of us by the giving of our time, talent or treasure in helping others. The theme when I go out to speak this year is "Hands are a Gift from God"! Are yours being generous in helping others?
    This is quite evident by the generosity in our own community and others communities, too. We are blessed by the generosity of so many individuals, places of worship, schools, businesses and organizations. Without your support the "Little Pantry with the Big Heart" would stop beating.
    Because of your generosity of monetary donations we are able to purchase the special food needed for diabetics, high blood pressure problems and other related dietary issues. They also let us keep buying food from Merrimack Valley Food Bank in Lowell for sixteen cents a pound and many times there a free items, too. The food donations help us to give food to the families that have no dietary problems.
    Your donations help in other areas, too for buying clothing, paying for an occasional medication needed by a family and other necessary items that are hard for a family to obtain. Also, we will get calls for helping people with an emergency fuel situation, especially if the winter is very cold and fuel assistance hasn’t kicked in yet, if a family qualifies. Always remember those low guidelines we all deal with in getting help in any given situation. Most of the families that come to us have someone working in their family or are disabled. For some families it is a father with two jobs and a mother with one job juggling to make ends meet. Medical insurance causes a burden for many families and there are no easy answers to any of these problems. Many families cannot afford this insurance and fall in the cracks and again food is the first thing to go. Nutritious food and the right food for restricted diets helps to keep an immune system stronger that is being stretched with anxiety in trying to figure out what to do to survive. Many families are doubling up and tripling up including our own community because they cannot make it on their own.
    Hunger has no boundary lines and pantries help each other out when there is a need and I work with the St. Vincent De Paul Societies in any community that we are helping families.
    We are blessed with many volunteers that allow me to do many other aspects of the pantry that I would not be able to do otherwise.
    We work as a team and you are part of this as an invisible partner of this team by your generosity.
    I will be speaking at St. John’s The Evangelist Church, North Chelmsford this weekend, Oct. 28 and 29 at all the Masses and St. Mary Magdalene on the Dracut/Tyngsboro line on Dec. 9 and 10 to raise funds and create an awareness we are here to help.
    For further information call 978 250-3818 or email: vze2gt3p@verizon.net. All calls are confidential. Visit our website at www.homepage.mac.com/poptech/Pantry/Pantry.html. Add it to your favorites and it just says Pantry.
    Thank you for your continued support and may you be blessed with the same hope you have given to others at the pantry for all these years.
    Sandy Donovan is the director of the Chelmsford Community Exchange food pantry