There are 71 of them and they come from all parts of the Island to help. They are the volunteers who help run the Island Food Pantry.
Located at the Christ United Methodist Church, often called the Stone Church, the food pantry has become something of a community center for the hungry. The pantry opens its doors three days a week — Monday, Wednesday and Friday, from 2 to 4 p.m. — for people in need to come and fill grocery bags with essential food. The nonprofit organization last year took in close to $93,000 in donations and spent the same to keep the pantry stocked.
Throughout the year donations of money and food pour into the pantry from all corners of the community, including schools, churches, libraries and private businesses.
Armen Hanjian, coordinator for the food pantry, said the volunteers who help keep the organization running are a dedicated lot. “Ninety per cent of them have stayed at their jobs for years,” he said. A retired Methodist minister, Mr. Hanjian himself has been active in the food pantry for 15 years.
The volunteers have many jobs. Stockers come into the church basement on a regular basis and stock the shelves. Others come in to bag the groceries; this group has a backup crew to fill in when needed. Some go out to collect donation boxes at local stores, churches, banks and other locations around the Island. Some make new collection boxes, painting them the familiar purple with white lettering. There is a group of volunteers who spend the winter knitting mittens for needy children. There is even a volunteer yoga instructor who offers members of the crew free support.
Another team of volunteers is ready to step in if the turnout is more than expected on a given day. Last year the food pantry had a record 91 visitors in one day, and during one week in April there were 196 visits.
Mr. Hanjian said he has watched the team grow.
“There is such a need,” said Marcia Randol of Chilmark, who has volunteered for the food pantry for a decade. She spends two hours a week at the food pantry, helping to sort goods and greet people coming into the pantry. “The fellowship we have is really great,” she said, adding: “The people we serve at the pantry cross the Island spectrum. We see senior citizens, young families getting started, single parents. Each person that comes in is vetted through the social service agencies, a minister, a physician and Community Services.” She continued:
“It is up to us to treat everyone with dignity. I talk to people who come here, who say they are surprised they have to come here. I have seen people cry. You want to say to them, it will be okay,” Mrs. Randol said. “I say to them, when you get back on your feet maybe you will come back and volunteer.”
She recalled one man who did just that. “One guy we helped one winter came back the next year and painted the basement of the church.”
Penny Uhlendorf, a volunteer from Vineyard Haven, told the story about a college sophmore who volunteers at the food pantry whenever he is home on college break.
Jaqueline Bacellar of Vineyard Haven began volunteering at the pantry last year and is nicknamed Tornado by the other volunteers. “She is always busy,” Ms. Uhlendorf said. “She is always doing something, helping with something, even when nothing is going on.”
Ms. Bacellar is a professional cook, house cleaner, photographer and teacher who is fluent in Portuguese, Spanish and English. For the food pantry, she is also a translator, volunteering her time three hours a week.
“I am giving back. I want to help the community in some way,” Ms. Bacellar said.