WESTMINSTER —When Cathy McDonald knows the shelves are running low, the director of the Westminster Community Food Pantry knows she can turn to her community and fellow volunteers for support.
“Years ago, at times when funding was low, I remember worrying about how we would make it to the holidays,” said McDonald. “Now, I don’t have to worry because I know that if we put the word out people will come through every time.”
The pantry, located at the First Congregational Church, is supported by monetary donations from residents, which volunteers use to stock shelves with food from Vincent’s Country Store. It serves more than 10 families in the community and sends food baskets to the senior center as well.
McDonald said each of the schools, churches, and businesses in the area look out for the pantry in many ways.
Local schools set up several food drives throughout the year, and this year the Westminster Elementary School provided a large donation, she said.
With the school year coming to an end, the pantry is likely to see a drop-off in donations; but, McDonald is confident they can find help elsewhere.
“All we have to do is say the food pantry is hurting and things turn around quickly in this town,” she said.
Brian Vincent, owner of Vincent’s Country Store, held an auction in January for a limited edition box of craft beers from Wachusett Brewing Company. The auction resulted in a $600 donation to the food pantry.
Former pantry volunteer and local resident Ed LaFortune died on May 28 and asked that donations be made to the pantry, said McDonald.
McDonald first got involved with the food pantry with her husband Gary in 2007. Though he eventually became too busy to continue the work, she remained with the group and eventually took over the director position.
“Cathy is a moving force around here,” said one of the volunteers. “She brings some serious energy to this place, all of the volunteers do.”
Dorcas Hurd, who’s been with the group since 2007, said McDonald and one other individual initially performed most of the work.
“We eventually decided to divide up the work to make their lives much easier,” said Hurd. Now, she said, the volunteer group is a well-oiled machine.
“It’s a great group of volunteers and we’ve remained constant over the years,” said McDonald. “Not only are we volunteers, but I think we’re all friends.”
McDonald said the camaraderie and support within the group is important.
Volunteer Atsuko Harding said she joined the group when it first began nearly 12 years ago.
“At that time, it was a very small group of people and it wasn’t this active like today,” she said. “Now it’s more organized and we enjoy being here. We’re like a family.”
A younger volunteer, Jessica Shear, helps maintain the group’s Facebook page and posts almost daily updates about the program.
“Since we’ve been on social media I think there’s much more awareness of the food pantry,” said McDonald.
Before social media, the group relied on word of mouth to get news about the pantry out to the public. “A lot of people were surprised that we had a food pantry,” said McDonald.
Hurd said after putting out a request for new volunteers on Monday, she received about 10 replies within a day.
The food pantry focuses on non-perishable items, but after receiving a grant for a new refrigerator the pantry will be able to stock more perishable items like eggs and cheese, she says.
The $2,099 grant was awarded by the Community Foundation of North Central Massachusetts. The old refrigerator was smaller and caused some concern with the Board of Health due to its ability to stabilize the temperature, said McDonald.
The food pantry is open at 138 Main St. on Wednesdays from noon to 1 p.m. and on Thursdays from 6:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. For questions or to volunteer, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 978-874-2350.
Daniel Monahan: email@example.com