‘Bag the Community’ fills big need

by Town Reminder

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‘Bag the Community’ fills big need
30,000 pound of food collected over Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day weekend
By William Pead
Turley Correspondent

SOUTH HADLEY – Thanks to the generosity of town residents and the selfless volunteer effort by hundreds, organizers say the “Bag the Community” food drive was a big success.
Carol Isakson, director of the Neighbors Helping Neighbors Food Pantry, said the event that took place throughout Martin Luther King Day Jr. weekend collected some 30,000 pounds of canned goods and nonperishable food items to be distributed to the needy in the community.
She said, “We’re thrilled with the turnout of volunteers and drivers. Everyone I talked to had a really great time, and got out and met their neighbors.”
Among the hundreds of volunteers were high schools students and staff, members of “Count Me In,” a group formed as a response to the tragic death of Phoebe Prince, and a large contingent of Mount Holyoke College students and faculty.
Shopping bags that had been delivered to homes around South Hadley last Friday were picked up Monday in a well-coordinated collection effort by the many student volunteers.
Isakson said “Bag the Community” could not have happened without all the volunteers who gave their time and effort to make it a success. And she singles out Bill Johnson of Hampshire Towing for providing a giant trailer and storage space, Packing Corporation of America in Northampton for donating packing boxes, and All Star Dairy, whose milk crates were also used.
Food Pantry Coordinator Kathleen Camp said the event started back in 2011 when the pantry was first opening at the United Methodist Church in South Hadley Falls.
After starting out with 2,500 bags that year, she said, “This year they put out 5,000 bags in the community.”
Food pantry clients number close to 200 a month, and the program feeds some 400 individuals.
As for the “Bag the Community” volunteers, Camp said, “I think you will find they all have very big hearts. They really want to give back to the community.”
Mary Lou Guarnera, a pantry board member, said, “People like to be helpers. They like to feel that they matter.” She’s especially happy to see the involvement of the high school students.
She pointed out that 600 students in South Hadley schools get free lunches, an indication of the huge need in town.
Ira Brezinsky, a member of the Selectboard, was among the volunteers helping out. He said, “This has become an extremely important event for the food pantry, and really sets them up very nicely for the year in terms of providing food and other supplies to people that are in need.”
“It’s a wonderful event that really brings the community together,” he said. “And it’s a real indication of what South Hadley’s all about.”