It was another busy year at the Island Food Pantry, a community-wide organization that feeds those in need.
The year proved similar to last year; there were 2,405 visits, which fed 505 family units, including at least 250 children. Last year the pantry, which began in 1981 and operates out of the Stone Church in Vineyard Haven, fed 503 family units.
The regular food pantry season runs from October to April, and the pantry is open Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m.
During the summer season, food is distributed by appointment.
This year, expenses were down for the pantry, mostly due to an increase in food contributions, said food pantry coordinator Armen Hanjian.
Following a trend started a few years ago, the number of elderly seeking assistance has increased. In addition, the number of clients who come six or more times has also grown.
“This is designed for emergency needs, what it’s moving towards is ongoing support,” Mr. Hanjian said. The pantry encourages clients to sign up for government food assistance to try to diminish their reliance on emergency food supplies.
“We have a huge cross section of people who come to the pantry,” said Marcia Randol, a volunteer for more than 10 years. These include elderly on fixed income, people who are unemployed in the winter, and families with young children," she said. “It’s real cross section of people who come in.”
Ms. Randol is one of 70 volunteers who work at the pantry.
“The Vineyard is known all over the country and the world as a very affluent place and it turns out that not everybody is,” Ms. Randol said. “To think that there are people who live in tents in the summer and people who are homeless in the wintertime is something that is very disturbing to me, so I think it’s really important to think about our neighbors. This is not a very big island, and if we don’t look out for each other, it’s not a very good thing.”
Penny Uhlendorf, a Wednesday volunteer, said while many clients experience shame when they come to the pantry, the volunteers try to keep it lighthearted and welcoming.
“We tell people that it won’t continue, that things will improve and when they do, they will have their chance to give back, too,” she said.
The food pantry benefits from the donations of many Island families, schools, businesses and community groups. The Oak Bluffs School donated more than 100 bags of food this year. The other schools also pitch in.
While all donations are appreciated, volunteers said it would be nice to get more food that meets diverse diets.
Expired food should not be donated, Ms. Randol said. “I don’t think it’s right for people to give us stuff that they wouldn’t eat themselves.”
The food pantry has been closed since April 15. Those who require food during the summer can call 508-693-4764 and a volunteer will arrange a pickup.