Every year Armen Hanjian gives a talk to the second graders at the Oak Bluffs School about the Island Food Pantry. After the talk, the school kicks off a food drive, led by the three second grade classes. One year, a little boy came up to Mr. Hanjian and asked him to autograph his hand.

“They must have talked me up,” he said with a laugh. He gamely signed the boy’s hand. On the ferry the next day, he saw the student again.

“He said, ‘it washed off, could you write it again?’” Mr. Hanjian recalled.

This type of celebrity status isn’t why he took on the role of coordinator of the Island Food Pantry for the past two decades, but it’s certainly an unexpected perk. However, this season Mr. Hanjian, 80, is putting away his autograph pen and retiring as food pantry coordinator.

"It's never been a burden. It's always been satisfying." — Maria Thibodeau

Margaret Hannemann, his assistant, will take over as the new coordinator. “She’s just the right person,” he said. Mr. Hanjian will be honored at the food pantry’s annual volunteer thank you dinner on May 9 at the Martha’s Vineyard Hebrew Center.

The pantry has been supplying Vineyarders in need since 1981. It operates out of the United Methodist Church in Vineyard Haven, where families can come every two weeks to pick up three bags of food, ranging from the basics of canned goods, soups and boxed pasta to fresh fruit and vegetables. Once a month, they also receive a $25 gift card to Stop & Shop. Supported by all the faith communities on the Island, the pantry runs on the power of volunteers and without government subsidies.

Mr. Hanjian, a retired United Methodist minister, took on the unpaid position of coordinator in 1996.

“When I started, there were three changes I made,” he said. “One, I changed it from a director of the food pantry to the coordinator. Two, I started an advisory board. Three, I started to have an annual audit.”

He also kept diligent records of statistics. In a yellow folder he keeps lists of numbers (337 families visited his first year, 423 families visited this year), lists of speaking dates (the Hebrew Center every Rosh Hashanah), and a list of volunteers and substitutes (more than 80 in all).

When asked if he’d had the same folder for 20 years, Mr. Hanjian smiled. 
“The other folder wore out,” he said.

He claims not to have a head for numbers, but whenever someone asks about the food pantry, he is ready with statistics. The peak was after the recession in 2010, when the pantry served 640 families.

“It’s good that people who need it have it available; it’s bad that people need it,” he said.

Over the 20 years Mr. Hanjian has served, the role has grown from quarter time to half time. He said he is constantly amazed by the charitable spirit of the Vineyard.

“I’ve never sent a letter that said please send money, but we do send a lot of thank you letters,” he said. His wife, Vicky Hanjian, handles the thank-you notes.

As coordinator, Mr. Hanjian isn’t at the pantry every day the doors are open (Monday, Wednesday, Friday from 2 to 4 p.m., from mid-October to mid-April), but he is nearly always on call. This spring and summer the pantry will be open on Wednesdays from 3 to 6 p.m.

Most volunteers are responsible for a specific task, like buying food, picking up food, organizing food, building or painting dropoff boxes. Mr. Hanjian has done just about everything on the list at one time or another.

“It takes awhile for people to realize if they have to be away they can call a substitute, they don’t have to call me,” he said.

He got involved with the pantry soon after moving to the Vineyard full time in 1994. His family had built a house in Oak Bluffs from a log cabin kit in 1977, planning ahead for retirement. As a minister off-Island, he had been living in parsonages.

“When you retire, you have to have a place,” he said. “We built this, not with the idea of retiring, but just to have some equity, but it turned out once we started coming to the Vineyard we more and more fell in love with it.”

When he and Vicky, who is also a Methodist minister, moved to the Island permanently, instead of taking up a typical retirement activity like golf, they started cleaning houses. After two years, Mr. Hanjian took over the food pantry. The couple also steps in covering for Island ministers who leave on sabbatical or vacation. Two years ago, they began serving the Chilmark Church and will complete their work there at the end of June. The Hanjians were honored with a Spirit of the Vineyard award last year for their years of local service.

But Mr. Hanjian doesn’t see himself as giving more than he gets back.

“At least half the time I’m a receiving person,” he said. “And when you get down to it, I’m 100 per cent of the time receiving and some of the time giving, when I’m awake and aware.”

Now, the Hanjians will have a second retirement. They plan to travel and visit grandchildren, grandnieces and nephews. At age 80, he is still spry, hopping up and down from the futon couch to collect the latest numbers from the food pantry and a copy of his year-end report.

Mr. Hanjian expects wayward calls might still come in and he doesn’t really mind.

“It’s never been a burden,” he said. “It’s always been satisfying.”