DRACUT -- Organizers at the Dracut Food Pantry can only hope that when the public gets there, the cupboards aren't bare.
The next scheduled opening is July 28. The existing stock should be depleted by the end of that day. And although the shelves are full right now, the stockroom in the rear of the pantry needs to be replenished.
That is why a major food drive has been scheduled for this Saturday 21 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. in the parking lot of Hannaford Supermarket on the corner of Hildreth and Pleasant streets.
Board member Kevin Willett said a truck will be stationed in the parking lot and organizers are hoping to fill it with non-perishable items such as soups, pasta, canned tuna and chicken, spaghetti, macaroni and cheese, cereal, crackers and the like.
"People think about the food pantry around Thanksgiving and Christmas, and that's excellent," says Willett. "But the need exists year-round. The big challenge is keeping the shelves stocked."
The Dracut Food Pantry, which first opened its doors in October 2007, is discreetly located on the lower level behind the Beaver Brook Mills on Lakeview Avenue, just below Owen and Ollie's Restaurant. The pantry will open on July 28 from 9 a.m. to noon. For people who are unable to attend the food drive on Saturday, Willett reminds the public that donations are accepted at the Central Fire Station on Pleasant Street, which is a 24-hour drop-off site.
Monetary donations of any amount are also welcome. Checks can be made to Dracut Food Pantry, 1934 Lakeview Ave.
Q: What do you hope to accomplish with the food drive on July 21?
A: "Our goal is to fill the shelves for the next couple of months, because over the summer our food supply is low. The schools do a lot of food drives for us throughout the year but the kids are out of school for the summer so there are no donations coming in. Add to that the fact that the kids are home, so the family's need is greater. So we're trying to stay ahead of it."
Q: How many families come in for assistance on a monthly basis?
A: "We feed about 100 families a month, so if you figure four people to a household, that's 400 people. The very first opening we had back in 2007, we had about six families come in. We did it off the radar. We didn't publicize much. We wanted to make sure we could handle it. We wanted to make sure we knew what we were doing. We didn't want to finish the first day and say, 'Oh no. We had 50 families show up and we only had food for 20.'
"Knock on wood that hasn't happened yet. There have been times, though, when at the end of day we literally have three or four cans of SpaghettiOs on the shelf, and that's about it."
Q: How do you distribute the food?
A: "We have a different model than most other food pantries and we believe ours works well. You come in here and we give you a carriage. You go around and take what you need. At most pantries, you go in and tell them how many people in the family and they give you a couple of bags of food and I get the same exact thing that you get in your bag.
"We decided we wanted to go in a different direction. For instance, I'm a picky eater. I don't like peas. So if you give me peas, you really didn't help me any. So we let people go through and take what they like. We usually have a large variety of things, such as canned vegetables or soup or cereals. Take what you need, what you can use. Like I said, if you give me peas, I'm probably going to turn around and donate them to a food pantry."
Q: Why are some people who are in need still hesitant to come out to the food pantry?
A: "Oh, because of the stigma that's attached. Somehow it's your fault that you've fallen on hard times and need some help. But one of our goals is to remove that stigma. We do whatever we can. We try to be as friendly as possible. That's essential. We use a lot of the same volunteers, so they start to know each other. There's that familiarity. We work really hard at that because we know the stigma still exists. We make it a point to treat everyone that comes in here like we're old friends. After a couple of visits they start to feel comfortable."
Q: How confident are you that you will reach your goal at Saturday's food drive?
A: "We are very blessed to be living in the Dracut community. So many people want to help us. We have a great working relationship with the fire department, who go out of their way to collect the donations, pack them in a truck, haul it over to the pantry, unload it and even stock the shelves.
"We hear about people who are having a retirement party or an anniversary party and they're asking for food donations instead of gifts. I've heard of little kids who have asked for food donations instead of gifts at their birthday parties.
"This is a can-by-can battle. People think if they can't donate 100 cans it doesn't make a difference, but it does. A couple of bags on non-perishable from a bunch of people just might fill us up. We don't need one person to fill the entire pantry."