'They care about their town and the hungry people in it': Pittsfield pantry steps up as need grows
The South Community Food Pantry in Pittsfield serves about 900 families every week in their grocery-store-style facility or through deliveries.
That's about double the need from just a few years ago. And the community has responded — with loads of donations.
“They care about their town and the hungry people in it,” pantry treasurer Pam Kueppers said. “And how sad is it that we have to have food for 900 families every week. That’s how tough it is here.”
Recently, for her 90th birthday, Wheat asked the Pittsfield community to donate 900 boxes of cereal. Wheat said the response was overwhelming.
Mary Wheat, director: We asked because we filled the boxes for the delivery and this was just one item, and it took 900 boxes to fill everybody's box one time. And so we came up with the 900. But we were very lucky because we got 5,900 boxes.
Monte Belmonte, NEPM: That's incredible. So how many boxes of cereal are you going to ask for when you turn 100?
Wheat: I think I might vary it — have cereal plus peanut butter or something like that.
Belmonte: So tell us what a typical distribution looks like here at the South Community Food Pantry.
Pam Kueppers, treasurer: Well, people come in through one of the doors at the back and they check in at the computers. This is a big room and they can come around and pick what they want. They don't have to take anything.
Belmonte: Yeah, if you got a nut allergy, peanut butter is not going to do you any good that week.
Kueppers: Correct. And maybe you like this and not that. So that's what you choose. So we want people to go home with what they want. We don't want them to take home food and throw it away or something.
Monte Belmonte: Defeats the whole purpose.
Kaliis Smith, NEPM: Do you find that there are certain things that you don't order anymore because they've been left over after a couple of distribution mornings?
Belmonte: What shouldn't people donate to this particular food pantry, that you have enough of? Cereal, one.
Wheat: Well, cereal will be going down very quickly. So people do like it. They like soup, which we don't have any of. And they like tuna fish. They like spaghetti. Oh, they like the Ziploc-like Chef Boyardee. Because the homeless — we have a lot of homeless people — and they don't need a can opener. They can just zip up the top and they can eat it. You know, it doesn't have to be cooked. They like the nuts because it's protein. And they like the canned fruit. And rice is a big seller — or, a giver.
Kueppers: But money is always preferred here to buy those things with.
Wheat: I wanted to tell you, we do buy milk. In September, we spent $6,000 on milk. And the same for the produce. And that's only part of the produce because we get some from the Food Bank [of Western Massachusetts]. That was $5,700. So we need donations.
Belmonte: So that you can keep buying that milk.
Wheat: Yes, and the produce. Produce is the big thing if people want to eat nutritiously.
Kueppers: We can go buy cases of stuff for a whole lot less per can or box than what you can go buy it for. So money really helps us feed more people than what donations would do.
Hear an extended version of this interview on The Fabulous 413 podcast.
It’s Hunger Awareness Week on 88.5 NEPM, exploring stories about hunger in our region to better understand this crisis and what’s being done to combat it. Learn more about hunger in western Massachusetts at nepm.org/hunger.