FALMOUTH — What do a busload of middle schoolers and a retirement community have in common?
Food, and a whole lot more.
Walt Stephenson, an OceanView resident and former chairman of its Residents Council, recently challenged his Falmouth neighbors as well as residents from eight other retirement communities around the area to donate food to the Falmouth Food Pantry, in conjunction with the Postal Service’s Stamping Out Hunger nationwide food drive.
“It has always been obvious to me we’re pretty fortunate people to be at a facility like this,” Stephenson said. “I’ve long felt our generation is by no question the most fortunate generation in the history of mankind; (the food drive) seemed to me to be something we could do annually to give something back.”
Calling the drive “Operation Thanks,” Stephenson received immediate positive feedback after first suggesting the idea last February. He then contacted the Postal Service, which approved the idea, and marshaled volunteers that included a telephone team that placed reminder calls and drivers who picked up donations from communities as far away as Hollowell.
According to Stephenson, every resident at OceanView donated to the drive.
As an active volunteer with the Falmouth schools’ Senior Teacher Program, Stephenson wanted to include students in the process, too, to make it truly an intergenerational effort.
In mid-May, after the food drive, about 40 seventh-graders rode the school bus to Hilltop Lodge at OceanView, where they listened while Stephenson gave a short talk and then formed a “bucket brigade” to load the many bags of food into the cargo area of the bus for transport to the food pantry.
Director Dorothy Blanchette met the bus at the door to the food pantry, located in a portion of the old police station at Town Hall. After giving a history of the operation, which began with a few supplies located behind the town clerk’s desk, she instructed the students to check the expiration dates of the donated food, sort it into categories and then stock the shelves.
“We get a lot of support from local food drives, but this was the largest food drive we’ve ever had,” Blanchette said.
The excitement over the influx of food has been magnified by an Eagle Scout project undertaken by Ben Snowdon, Blanchette said. He is constructing new, sturdier shelves, painting much of the interior and creating a wooden sign to put over the door.
Over the years, the pantry has grown in size and by the number of people it serves, Blanchette said. About 30 volunteers assist at least 85 families – many with children – who rely on the pantry’s food and supplies. Though the pantry used to pre-pack bags of food for its customers, now families may choose what they need, cutting down on waste and allowing for dietary restrictions.
In addition to food, the pantry raises money to help with rent, medical bills and other expenses. Open from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m., the first and third Mondays of the month and from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. on the second and fourth Thursdays, as well as for emergencies, the food pantry also delivers to shut-ins, the handicapped or those too poor to own a car.
Though donations to food pantries are often down during the summer months, making it more challenging to meet people’s needs, Blanchette said “Operation Thanks” would enable the Falmouth pantry to “make it through the summer.”
As for, Stephenson, he’s already planning for next year’s drive.
“Everyone just had a good, warm, fuzzy feeling that we had done something worthwhile,” he said. “I don’t think a day has gone by that someone hasn’t responded, ‘what a great thing.'”
Peggy Roberts can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or email@example.com.