Dedham Food Pantry History

It all began in October, 1989, when the Reverend Bruce Kennedy, new minister at First Church Unitarian, preached a sermon on world hunger.  “A personal commitment to a world without hunger is a deliberate daily commitment” he said.  His words so inspired a member of his congregation, Corinne Lewis, that she decided to do something about hunger right here in Dedham.

At that time there were food pantries in most neighboring towns but none in Dedham.  She vowed to start one here.  She took her proposal to the First Church Evening Alliance, a group of women who recognized that the need to help hungry people existed even in a town as prosperous as Dedham.  Each Alliance member contacted specific organizations, such as churches, Family Service, Visiting Nurse, Council on Aging, Dedham Youth Commission, and school counselors.  Corinne herself wrote to and then visited every clergyman in town, all of whom were willing to support such a venture.  Margaret Pendleton wrote to all the members of Church Women United to apprise them of our plans.

Later that fall, at a gathering of 32 people from all over town, it was decided to open a food pantry in Dedham.  Each of the ten churches present would be responsible for food and volunteers for one month during the calendar year.  Louise Steegstra came from Norwood to describe how the Norwood Food Pantry had been established a few years earlier.  Her assistance was priceless.

At this meeting Corinne Lewis was named president of the planned pantry, Laura Mansfield vice president, Helen Bancroft secretary, and Allan Praught treasurer.  Nancy Sally and Ellen Clinton were to be in charge of day-to-day control of the pantry.  Ruth Knight became recording secretary at a later date.

A busy winter and spring followed.  In March, 1990, the Reverend Mack Hagins, of St. Johns United Methodist Church, offered space for the pantry in his church.  On March 22, 1990, Corinne Lewis and Helen Bancroft met with Rev. Hagins and Arlene Appleton at St. Johns Educational Building.  A proposed agreement was drawn up for Rev. Hagins to take to his church group for approval.  At the May 17 meeting of the Pantry’s Steering Committee with Rev. Hagins, the approved agreement was discussed and guidelines for the Pantry at St. Johns were established.  Arlene Appleton would be designated coordinator between the church and the Pantry.

A large basement room with a divider offered space on one side for food, on the other a waiting room for clients and a play area with toys for the clients’ children.  St. Johns is  conveniently located on the corner of Oakdale Avenue and Fairview Street near Oakdale Square.

Meantime Treasurer Allan Praught performed an invaluable service.  He filed the papers necessary for setting up the Dedham Food Pantry as a legal entity as the Dedham Food Pantry Charitable Trust, which it became in September 1990.

In late September a core group of volunteers under the supervision of Laura Mansfield, Nancy Sally, Ellen Clinton and their spouses worked long and hard to set up the new Pantry.  Much excitement preceded the opening as each church undertook to be responsible for one month yearly.  The Pantry would be open every Saturday morning from 9-11 AM, and on Thursday afternoons from 4-6 for stocking shelves.  The response fro the community had been heartwarming.

It was an emotional day when the Pantry opened its doors for the first time on Saturday morning, October 6, 1990, just a year from the time the idea had first surfaced.  A large supply of food was on hand on sturdy shelves that had been donated by Star Market and Stop and Shop supermarkets.  Volunteers from St. John of Damascus were ready to escort each client through the Pantry shelves to make their selection of two large bags of groceries. Each client had been referred by the clergy, school counselors or local town agencies.

Pantry Clients

Five clients came to the Pantry on that first day but this number quickly tripled as word spread.  We now have 250 families on our rolls.  They come for food, which is meant to be supplementary food.  By spring 1991 the Pantry was firmly enough established for the Selectmen to proclaim the week of May 4 – 11 Dedham Food Pantry Week.

The majority of our clients come for a relatively short period of time – just long enough to tide them over a difficult situation.  Take the case of the young man just out of the Army with a wife and small baby and no job.  For several months the Pantry was for him a lifesaver.  Now he has his own business with several employees, and now helps the Pantry.

Then there is the nurse in the middle on an unusually stressful divorce.  Her broken arm was not work related, her benefits ran out, and she was in dire distress.  For two months the Pantry was an enormous help until she got back to work.  She has since returned with a generous check for the Pantry.  Another young man with three small children used the Pantry for six months when he most needed it.  Now he has a job and ever since has been supporting the Pantry with money, food, and time.

The single mothers who make up part of our list often stay with us for up to a year or longer This is because they are usually involved in school or training programs.  Sometimes we become a referral service when people come to us for help and then learn from us about other services that can assist them.  A few clients are elderly.

There is a core group that uses the Pantry regularly.  Others use it only when it is needed.  Members of the core group sometimes pick up food for us or help us in other ways.

Of the 250 families on our list, 100 no longer need our services.  At present we have a list of 150 families, with 50/60 clients visiting us each week.  Volunteers treat clients with sensitivity and caring, and respect their need for confidentiality.

Dollars and Cents

Since the Pantry opened in 1990, it has developed a budget of $39,000.  Strong support from Project Bread, the Food Bank, Federal Emergency Management Agency, and United Way, combined with tremendous community help have made this possible.

Supermarkets have been incredibly generous, while others like Rotary, and Junior Woman’s Club, Fairbanks Garden Club, and Dedham Boosters have become faithful regular givers, as have many individuals.  During the first three years of its existence the Pantry has received more than 700 gifts of money and/or food, and all gifts, large or small, have been gratefully received.

Several fundraisers have been put on by the Pantry itself, such as the three Food and Plant sales held in May.  Each has been a town-wide event.

School children have played a major role.  Elementary schools, the Middle Scholl, High School, Dedham Country Day, Noble and Greenough, St. Sebastians, all have helped.  In an era when there is often little opportunity for the young to contribute, these young people have raised money, collected food, and worked at the Pantry itself.  The Scouts each autumn collect thousands of tins of food for us.  Children of volunteers have been drawn into the program as well.

People find creative ways to help the Pantry, like the two ladies, one celebrating her 60th birthday, the other her 80th.  At their request, instead of a party their friends filled a station wagon with food for the Pantry.  One friend did all his Christmas shopping through gifts to the Pantry, and plans to do so again this year.  Memorial gifts as well as gifts in honor of a friend are many.  Local pharmacies display Pantry boxes in their shops.

The list is so long it would be impossible to name all Pantry friend, for their name is legion.

In spite of many donations of food, the Pantry average expenditure per week for food is $797.

Every penny given to the Pantry goes directly to purchasing food.  There are no salaries – all workers are volunteers.

The Pantry Today

In October, 1992, Corinne Lewis resigned as president and turned the office over to the capable hands of Hana Heald who succeeded her.  Nina Ackerman served as vice president with Hana until 1993 and was in charge of staffing and approaching supermarkets.  She still stocks the shelves.

In 1993 Courtney Chouinard became president and Arlene Appleton vice president.  Both have been members of the Pantry since its inception.

As the Pantry begins its fourth year of service to the community, it has evolved from a single compelling idea to an ecumenical effort to a town-wide project, a coalition of churches, schools, service clubs, community organizations, local businesses, all volunteering to help fill the needs of hungry people in Dedham. Literally hundreds of volunteers have stepped forward to aid in this endeavor with food, money, time and expertise.  Some of these volunteers speak to local group, others present programs to schools, and still others sponsor fundraisers to supplement donated food.

The Dedham Food Pantry touches many lives – clients, volunteers, children – in this group effort of neighbor helping neighbor. The Pantry’s Steering Committee and all who have been involved in the success of the Dedham Food Pantry want to thank our corresponding secretary, Helen Bancroft, for her research and presentation of this short history of the Pantry.  It is so necessary – ‘lest we forget’.

Cast Your Bread Upon The Waters

This is a transcript of Reverend Bruce Kennedy’s sermon: