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Red Cross' Dorchester food pantry helps make sure area residents don't go hungry over the holidays

Posted by Patrick Rosso  December 17, 2012 01:36 PM

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(Patrick D. Rosso/Boston.com/2012)

In Video: Recipients and volunteers talk about their experiances at the Dorchester food pantry.

Coming in from the chilly December air, families, grandparents, mothers, and fathers shuffled into the American Red Cross of Massachusetts Bay’s Dorchester food pantry Saturday morning.

Some of those standing in line on Proctor Street waiting for their food worked; others were still looking for jobs; and some were disabled.

“I’ve been coming about ten years. They help out a lot; it helps out with the household,” said Gloria Mount, a 59-year-old Dorchester resident who comes to the pantry after her dialysis treatment. “It’s very important; a lot of people can’t make ends meet.”

The food pantry, tucked into a warehouse across from the South Bay Shopping Center, distributes an estimated 1.5-million pounds of food to the needy yearly and demand for the distribution that takes place Wednesday and Saturday is always up.

“It’s a hunger issue and it’s a poverty issue,” said David Andre, director of food and nutrition programs for the American Red Cross of Massachusetts Bay. “The money they have to buy food with, they have to portion off to other necessities like the rent, childcare, and education.”

At the center there are three full-time employees distributing food to families from across Greater Boston. But while the employees help make sure everything runs smoothly, it’s the volunteers who really make it possible.

Close to 35 of them, from all over Boston, Cambridge, and the suburbs, were helping out Saturday. Packing bags, assisting older recipients, and making sure everyone got what they needed before Christmas, the volunteers, many of whom return every weekend, are what makes the distribution center hum.

“It’s an effort to give back to the community so that they will be able to experience maybe something I do have,” said Rev. Glenda Allsopp, who was volunteering Saturday with the First Holiness Church of Cambridge. “It lightens your heart.”

Allsopp’s motivation to give back wasn’t that much different from those who turned out to help in the chilly warehouse.

“It just feels good giving back to the community,” said Hanna Yang, 17, a Concord resident who was volunteering Saturday. “They definitely put you to work [here]. Everyone is moving and they’re really organized. I just think it’s important for everyone to do something like this. This is the best thing you can do for yourself and other people.”

“I want to feel like I’m doing something good and making an impact on the world,” said Danielle Owen, 27, a South Boston resident volunteering Saturday. “I have the luxury to feed myself and they should also have that opportunity.”

An estimated 500 families are served every time the center is open. Receiving bags of chicken, vegetables, breads, eggs, and other essentials, many left the center grateful for the food that will soon fill their pantries.

“We like the treatment here,” Lawyuetshan Law, 53, a South Boston resident said translated through her 17-year-old son Jason Wong. “It’s very friendly; not as much yelling; there are no arguments; it’s like a family.”

The community aspect of the pantry is what many highlighted as why they like it. Smiling and chatting with friends and center staff in line, many saw this as more than a food pantry, with those receiving also giving back.

“I try to help them out when I can,” said Kirk Womack, 42, a Hyde Park resident who works two jobs and receives some food from the center.

Womack has been receiving food from the center for the last year and also helps out with organizing the lines.

“With the economic times they’re solely dependent on the food they receive here,” said Womack. “I work two jobs. I have three daughters and a wife at home and it’s not ever enough. With the ways the times are right now, with the prices skyrocketing on things…It’s a good thing the Red Cross is around.”

The center, which has been a lifeline for area residents for more than a decade, has also become a center for information and resources, helping recipients manage their food stamps or enroll in the program.

“It’s not always easy to stop what you are doing and ask them what their status is,” said Andre. “For the typical pantry it’s not feasible, but we kind of attack hunger two-fold. We give out food assistance and we also make sure their food stamp needs are taken care of as well.”

Andre estimated that the center helped residents receive close to $330,000 in food stamps last year.

Although the outreach is important, it’s the food handed out every week that really helps recipients feed their families.

“It’s the difference between getting to the end of week and still having something in the refrigerator,” said Womack. “Having something and not having something is a big issue.”

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(Patrick D. Rosso/Boston.com/2012)


Marilyn Alvir, 16, and Christina Laguerre, 16, filled bags to be distributed to area families.

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Email Patrick D. Rosso, patrick.d.rosso@gmail.com. Follow him @PDRosso, or friend him on Facebook.

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