St. John’s Food Pantry Relies on the Help of Many Dedicated Hands
March 17, 2017
by David S. Morin
With Easter coming in a few weeks, the volunteers at the Saint John’s XXIII Parish Food Pantry are busy preparing food and baskets for those in need in Hudson. The pantry has served town residents since 1983. From the beginning, Pauline Boisvert has served as a volunteer at the pantry. Her dedication and work within the organization made her the perfect choice In 2004 to fill the position of director.
Each year the 70 church and community volunteers serve countless hours helping ensure that hundreds of Hudson families get needed food and gifts around Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter time. This is no easy task. Hundreds of hours are needed to keep the shelves full by seeking out donations, as well as making weekly trips to the New Hampshire Food Bank, area grocery stores and shopping malls.
Pauline said the goal of the pantry is to feed the people of Hudson who are at risk –a task she takes very seriously. Each Sunday morning at 1 a.m. Pauline sits at her computer to place the order for needed supplies from the New Hampshire Food Bank. Once the order is placed she remains at her post sometimes until 2:30 a.m. waiting for a confirmation from the food bank that the order was received and her supplies will be ready for pickup on Tuesday. She then arrives at the pantry office early the next morning to prepare for the week.
The Easter distribution is the easiest of the holiday distributions for the pantry. On the day of the interview, 75 clients had requested assistance. Pauline expects that number to rise to around 120 by the distribution day on April 8. The many volunteers are busy filling the food boxes and making Easter baskets for every child in the program up to 17 years old. Boys from 10 to 17 years are the hardest to find gifts for. “Donations are needed for this age group for Easter,” Boisvert said.
Without the support of the community the pantry would not survive. Each year donations from many businesses and individuals provide needed food, personal items and toys to keep the program up and running. Reeds Ferry Shed and its employees donated 14,000 food items to the pantry just before Christmas. Two of the company’s flat bed trucks with a police escort delivered the goods, which employees and Hudson police officers completely unloaded in a half an hour.
The C&M Machine Company donated 8,000 items, also at Christmas, filling the shelves to capacity. With these generous donations it would seem that the shelves remain filled throughout the year. Unfortunately, it is just the opposite as this is a year-round operation with pickups on the second and fourth Wednesdays of the month and walk-in pickups every other Monday of the month.
Liberty Utilities employees also provide assistance. The Liberty workers not only make donations, they also complete any type of work that needs to be done.
The Hannaford of Pelham and Trader Joe’s of Nashua provide food necessities each week that are handed out on the distribution days. The Hudson pantry is different from those you would find in the City of Nashua. Here in Hudson you will find food and gifts at the appropriate holidays. In Nashua clients have to travel to several distribution points to receive their food and other points to pick up gifts.
In May, a special picnic basket package is handed out to clients holding all the fixings for a summertime barbecue. Also for the summer, a special pack was supplied for the older kids who will be home during the summer while their parents work. This pack includes meals that kids like and are easy for them to prepare for lunches. In August, just before school starts, backpacks filled with school supplies are handed out.
The people behind the scenes make the biggest difference at the pantry. Gayle Zelonis, known as the coupon queen, is one of the main shoppers for the pantry. Gayle has a knack for going to local stores and finding the bargain or the best prices. Hudson-Litchfield News Editor Len Lathrop is quoted as saying about Gayle that she is a “procurement specialist.” Other volunteers, like Roger Beaudoin, are drivers who use their personal vehicles making the weekly trips to Manchester to the food bank and local stores to pick up the food and other donated items.
Many community groups also lend a hand. The Alvirne High Student Council, Hudson Boy Scout Troop 252 and the youth groups from the church all participate with making sure food is sorted, packaged, and that the children get needed hats, mittens and warm coats. Members of the town’s police and fire provide the staffing for the holiday distribution days. What once took several hours to move the clients through is now completed in two hours.
The pantry is always in need for food donations, hygiene products, new toys and clothing. If anyone would like to help the pantry for Easter, empty baskets are needed. Easter donations are requested no later than March 31.
If you would like to help you can call 882-2462 at extension 6 or donations can be sent to Saint John’s XXIII Parish Food Pantry at 121 Allds St., Nashua NH 03060.