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Feeding a need in Saugus: Food pantry needs donations leading up to holidays

Jeff Hirtle of Danvers, left, unboxes goods for the Cliftondale Congregational Church food pantry as a client moves down the isle of food. (Spenser Hasak)

SAUGUS — The only food pantry in town is expecting to serve more people during the holiday season than in past years.

More than 250 people typically depend on the Saugus United Parish Food Pantry’s services each week and about 120 total meals are usually needed for Thanksgiving, but numbers have increased due to other pantries shutting down nearby, said volunteer Wendy Reed. The pantry is in need of many more donations to ensure all families who need help can receive a full meal for Thanksgiving, she said.

“We are really the only pantry in town now so I have a feeling we might get more requests this year than we normally do,” said Reed. “The holidays are coming up and we are looking for any group, organization, or individuals who want to make donations. Thanksgiving and Christmas — they come back to back. We always have late ones looking for a turkey but we don’t have enough.”

The pantry has been open for 30 years and is affiliated with the Greater Boston Food Bank (GBFB). Reed, who serves as clerk for the Board of Selectmen, stepped up to help when the former director resigned last year.

All nonperishable food items are needed, particularly canned and fresh vegetables, stuffing mix, cranberry sauce, potatoes, carrots, squash, and frozen turkeys. Pickup or dropoff can be arranged by calling Dennis Gould at 617-257-4847.

Two dozen people distribute food in the basement of the Cliftondale Congregational Church on Fridays while others pick up donations from Stop & Shop, Panera Bread and Walmart throughout the week, Reed said. In total, the pantry has up to 40 volunteers to count on regularly. She is hoping others will choose to volunteer time as the holidays approach.

“Clients change — some get jobs or move away — but then there’s always more people that come in,” said Reed. “Many elderly who live alone don’t get much on assistance for food, so it does help supplement so they can at least have something else. We try not to turn anyone away. Even if it’s an emergency one-time visit, people are welcome to come in. Sometimes people fall on hard times and just need help. They shouldn’t feel funny asking. That’s what we’re here for.”

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