United Way food drive helps Athol, Winchendon pantries

Catherine Donovan and Harde Jones at the Athol Salvation Army food pantry.

Catherine Donovan and Harde Jones at the Athol Salvation Army food pantry. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

Cora Swan packs a bag full of food for a client at the Athol Salvation Army food pantry, which recently received a large food donation through the United Way.

Cora Swan packs a bag full of food for a client at the Athol Salvation Army food pantry, which recently received a large food donation through the United Way. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

The Athol Salvation Army on Ridge Avenue in Athol.

The Athol Salvation Army on Ridge Avenue in Athol. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

Catherine Donovan of the Athol Salvation Army in their food pantry.

Catherine Donovan of the Athol Salvation Army in their food pantry. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

By Max Bowen

Athol Daily News Editor

Published: 01-25-2024 10:29 AM

ATHOL—A three-month food drive conducted by the United Way of North Central Massachusetts (UWNCM) has proven a big help to local food pantries.

Run from Oct. 1 through Dec. 12, the “Gathering to Give: Harvesting for a Cause” food drive supplied over $33,000 worth of food, distributed to 12 local food pantries and a community meal program, according to information provided by the United Way. This initiative, aimed at addressing hunger in the region, provided support to over 850 families in north central Massachusetts.

Participating food pantries collected the donated items throughout the drive, filling their shelves during the holiday season. UWNCM collaborated with Growing Places, receiving local potatoes, butternut squash, carrots and onions. Additionally, UWNCM purchased supplementary food items, “ensuring a well-rounded and nutritious distribution,” a statement from the organization read.

“United Way is at the forefront of promoting nutrition and health in our agriculturally rich region. Teaming up with United Way, we purchased and distributed 4,410 pounds of local produce for North Central MA’s emergency food providers.” said Growing Places Executive Director Ayn Yeagle in a statement.

Volunteers from the Boys & Girls Club of Lunenburg, Lunenburg Community Food Pantry and The Fitchburg Housing Authority contributed their time to the initiative. Working at the United Way office, they organized and packed the donated items.

Local impact

Captain Esther Wilson with the Salvation Army’s Athol Corps, said they received approximately 120 pounds of food through the United Way.

“Every little bit when we get these food drives, it helps support what we are able to get from the (Worcester County) food bank,” Wilson said.

The need for food is high now, according to Wilson, with 1,000 people going to the Salvation Army’s Athol Corps last November, a significant increase over the 300-400 usually seen that time of year. She added that peanut butter, pasta sauces, canned fruit and personal care items are among the items most needed.

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Wilson said the increased cost of utilities are one of the reasons behind the increase number of people going to the Salvation Army. She said many who use these services are on limited incomes, and when costs go up, they may be forced to pay one bill instead of another.

“Food insecurity is a real thing, it’s a real story,” Wilson said. “We never turn people away who need food.”

The Winchendon CAC also saw a donation through the food drive, with 716 pounds filling the shelves. Assistant Director Shaina Cunningham said the drive was a “call to action” to the community and credited the many community partners who helped. This included the Town Hall, Fidelity Bank, and the Winchendon Schools.

“It was absolutely inspiring and hopeful to see,” said Cunningham.

Echoing Wilson, Cunningham said that this time of year is a challenge for many families. She said there is a lack of public transportation and not always enough available jobs, and she’s seen the needs of the community increase.

“We strategize and try to adapt and meet those needs to the best of our ability,” said Cunningham.

For more information on the Salvation Army Athol Corps and the Winchendon CAC, visit https://easternusa.salvationarmy.org/massachusetts/athol/ and https://www.winchendon-cac.org/.

Max Bowen can be reached at 413-930-4074 or at mbowen@recorder.com.