Food Pantry needs to be nourished

Rumors of retirements and possible closure have hurt local effort

By Joseph Domelowicz Jr.

For the Transcript

Beverly and David Phipps are not going anywhere, at least not right now. They just need some help to continue providing meals to local families, the way they have done for the past 14 years through the Winthrop Food Pantry.

“The buying, the lifting and lugging has gotten to be too much for David and me,” explained Beverly, who pointed out that with her husband now 76 years old and herself, the physical demands of running the center are quite a bit more difficult to keep up with.

“We said that we wanted to retire, but then we found out that several of the volunteers at the Food Pantry were going to leave if we left and that would’ve made it difficult for the church to continue operating (the Food Pantry) … it was never our intention to do anything that would cause it to close down.”

So, Phipps explained, their “retirement” from the Food Pantry is on hold, while they search for some help and restructure the operation to take some of the physical burden off of them.

“We’ve been trying to find someone for about a year and half, who would have the time to volunteer to make a once per week trip to the (Greater Boston) Food Bank to pick up the food that is available there and to also help with doing some of the shopping that has to be done to supplement what we get from the Food bank,” explained Phipps.

The problem is the hours the Food Bank is open for pick-ups, and finding someone who has a vehicle that is suitable for that kind of job. As she pointed out, one recent trip to a supermarket resulted in the couple purchasing about 800 pounds of canned vegetables that were on sale. A regular passenger car would not likely stand up to repeated trips of that magnitude.

Complicating the matter further is that the Phipps’ pickup truck, which they have used for the job for the past 14 years is now 15 years old and is an open bed truck, meaning they can’t shop during wet weather.

“It is difficult to find someone who is able and willing to volunteer to go to the Food Bank, make unexpected trips to the grocery stores when things are on sale and has a car that is capable of handling the job,” said Phipps.

Phipps estimates that currently the Food Pantry is serving an average of about 80 to 90 families per month, with some monthly fluctuations as high as 100 or more and as low as the mid-70s.

With that in mind, and given the time of year, with winter weather setting in, the services the Food Pantry provides are even more important right now. An interruption of that service could be catastrophic for the families being served by the Food Pantry.

Though the Food Pantry was begun by St. John’s Episcopal Church and is housed in the church’s building on Bowdoin Street, they do accept assistance from other outside organizations, including volunteer help and financial and assistance as well as food donations.

However, Phipps said this week that until now, the search to find someone to help the Food Pantry with its shopping and stocking needs has not really extended beyond the St. John’s community.

“If anyone is interested in helping with the shopping or providing a truck or van to help out, we’d really appreciate it,” said Phipps. “I don’t know if the rumors about us retiring or closing down have done it, but for some reason this year we are really way behind what we normally get in terms of donations and donated foods. So, for that reason we’re going to need to be shopping more than ever.”

The Winthrop Food Bank is a legal program of St. John’s Episcopal Church and as such is a tax-exempt organization. Because if that designation, they are able to pick-up food stock at the Greater Boston Food Bank and they receive grants of federal funds that allow them to purchase even more food to serve the community.

“I have very good relationships with the Stop-n-Shop and some of the other markets in town, so I don’t think it would be a problem to work out an arrangement where we could pre-pay the supermarkets for same items that we’d use and have volunteers pick it up the same day,” explained Phipps of one possible solution to the current problems.

Anyone interested in helping the Food Pantry can contact the Winthrop Food Pantry or St. John’s Episcopal Church or David and Beverly Phipps.

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