The Island Food Pantry had a record year. More people relied on the food pantry to augment or support their food needs this past winter than in any previous year. The organization goes back to 1981. Armen Hanjian, coordinator for the nonprofit organization committed to help those in need, said they had a record of 91 visitors in one day. In one week in April they had 196 visits.
The number of visitors to the pantry from mid-October to mid-April totalled 2,739, higher than the year before, 2,650. “We assisted 640 families representing just over 1,000 people on the Vineyard including at least 200 children. In addition, granola bars were provided to all the public schools for breakfast supplements,” Mr. Hanjian said. This was all done through the efforts of volunteers and the donations of food and money to the service. There is no paid staff.
Mr. Hanjian said of the 640 families, 162 came only once or twice. Last year there were 188. A total of 227 came six or more times this year (last year, 203 did so). Fifty indicated they were employed. A total of 160 stated they were unemployed, while 293 gave no answer regarding employment.
“We averaged 105 visits a week, a record,” Mr. Hanjian said.
Mr. Hanjian lives in Oak Bluffs and has been coordinator for 15 years. “The work is very satisfying,” he said.
The ability to provide food for those in need was underwritten by the community in many ways, Mr. Hanjian said. “We spent $20,205 more on food than last year. Nine out of the past 13 years we spent more than we received. Our endowment fund covered the shortages. These funds were given in memory of Kevin Kennedy, Daniel Alisio and Sayan Kasem. Our goal is to maintain the original gift and use the growth in the endowment for income shortages or special projects as we did in making our entryway handicapped accessible.”
They had a record income of $81,297 and a record food expenditure of $90,311. “Our income increased by $62 over last year,” Mr. Hanjian said. The food pantry gets support from all the Island religious organizations, schools, churches, private and public organizations and clubs.
Mr. Hanjian said there is a Portuguese-speaking translator most days the food pantry is open.
Rev. Helen Oliver inaugurated the Island Food Pantry as an outreach program of Christ United Methodist Church 30 years ago and since the beginning it has expanded from a one-person effort to one involving more than 70 volunteers. A contribution is made to the church to help with the cost of heat, light and garbage removal. “For the wonderful cooperation of the church and the community, I am sincerely thankful,” Mr. Hanjian said. “Best of all, our volunteers have worked hard and kept a positive attitude. I am grateful to be part of such a caring community.”
There are efforts underway to support the programs year-round. Mr. Hanjian said the group may help as many as 50 people this summer.
Last Monday night, as many as 40 food pantry volunteers were treated to a free “thank you” dinner at Ches-ca’s restaurant in Edgartown. They, along with the leadership of Habitat for Humanity, were treated to a meal by restaurant owners Jo Maxwell and her husband, David Joyce.
The food pantry maintains a Web site, islandfoodpantry.org, with all kinds of information about the service and ways to contribute. There is a documentary online, too, created by Joshua Bernstein and his family.