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Giving back by helping out at the Northampton Survival Center

  • Three times a week, Karen Mandeville picks up food at area markets and takes the donations to the Northampton Survival Center.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY

    Three times a week, Karen Mandeville picks up food at area markets and takes the donations to the Northampton Survival Center.

    SARAH CROSBY Purchase photo reprints »

  • Karen Mandeville leaves River Valley Market, Friday, with boxes of food to be delivered to the Northampton Survival Center.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY

    Karen Mandeville leaves River Valley Market, Friday, with boxes of food to be delivered to the Northampton Survival Center.

    SARAH CROSBY Purchase photo reprints »

  • Karen Mandeville loads boxes of donated food from River Valley Market into her car.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY

    Karen Mandeville loads boxes of donated food from River Valley Market into her car.

    SARAH CROSBY Purchase photo reprints »

  • The Northampton Survival Center distributes about 650,000 pounds of food a year to low-income families and individuals. <br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY

    The Northampton Survival Center distributes about 650,000 pounds of food a year to low-income families and individuals.

    SARAH CROSBY Purchase photo reprints »

  • Three times a week, Karen Mandeville picks up food at area markets and takes the donations to the Northampton Survival Center.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY
  • Karen Mandeville leaves River Valley Market, Friday, with boxes of food to be delivered to the Northampton Survival Center.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY
  • Karen Mandeville loads boxes of donated food from River Valley Market into her car.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY
  • The Northampton Survival Center distributes about 650,000 pounds of food a year to low-income families and individuals. <br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY

Karen Mandeville pushed her shopping cart down an aisle of Northampton’s River Valley Market toward the dairy section. She already had one box of bread and various vegetables — squash, eggplant, peppers, cauliflower and others — in her cart. Now she was ready for her next pickup.

“Hi, Tom,” she said to Tom Klekotka, who oversees the market’s dairy section. “What do we have today?”

“Lots of good stuff,” said Klekotka, as he loaded a heavy cardboard box packed with containers of ricotta cheese, yogurt, pesto and tomato sauce into Mandeville’s shopping cart. “How’s that?”

“That’s great,” Mandeville said. “Thanks, as always.”

Mandeville wasn’t just shopping for herself on this March day. As a volunteer for the Northampton Survival Center, she spends three mornings a week at several markets and stores in the region, picking up supplies for the Prospect Street organization that distributes over 650,000 pounds of food and other essentials annually to low-income families and individuals in the region.

She’s been doing the volunteer work at the Survival Center for three years now, and for the last two she’s been driving to stores like River Valley Market, Stop & Shop, Bread Euphoria in Haydenville, and Target in Hadley to pick up food and other items the stores donate. It amounts to well over 300 pounds of food a week, she notes.

“It’s pretty much everything,” she says. “There are staples like peanut butter, macaroni and cheese, pasta and tuna, and a pretty good amount of fresh vegetables, and sometimes meat.” Some stores donate slightly damaged and day-old merchandise along with extras in perfect condition. She’s also driven to places like Bashista Orchards in Southampton to pick up donated fresh apples.

Not only is she helping a good cause, says Mandeville, 59, but picking up food is a nice social outing for her. “I love it. The people are so generous, and they treat me like a starlet. I walk in there and they’re waving and saying, ‘Hi, Karen!’ I feel like I should take a bow.”

Mandeville says she has a special commitment to helping the Survival Center: She was a client there for a couple of years when she was going through a period of serious depression that kept her from working. The graciousness and generosity of the staff were key factors in helping her get through that difficult patch several years ago, she says.

“They’re just so humble,” she said. “And they’re so supportive. They never make you feel bad about having to ask for help, or make you feel you’ve done something wrong to be there. I was so grateful, and I wanted to give something back.”

Mandeville, who has also done volunteer work in the past for the Michael F. Curtin VFW Post 8006 in Florence, started working at the Survival Center, initially in the building itself, stocking clothing and other items. Then one day she was asked if she could make food runs “and I liked it so much that I asked if I could keep doing it.”

She’s worked in the past as an electrologist and as a construction laborer, among other jobs, and currently works part-time as an associate with Viridian Energy of Connecticut, a renewable energy company; she describes the position as a sort of low-key sales job, designed to enlist new customers, “but not knocking on doors.” She lives in Leeds with her husband, Samuel Adams.

As she pushed her shopping cart through River Valley Market, picking up another large cardboard box filled with beans, sprouts, cheese and fruit, she said that she’s busy these days helping her father and stepmother, both of whom are battling illnesses. That’s made her even more cognizant of the importance of helping others through the Survival Center.

“Food is such a basic need, but a lot of people aren’t getting enough of it,” she said. “What the Survival Center does is help you so you don’t have to make a choice between paying your heating bill and eating, or paying for your medicine and eating. I like being a part of that.”

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