South Hadley volunteers turn out in force for Bag the Community

  • Bag the Community volunteer Jonas Clarke, 14, unpacks a grocery cart of donated food on Monday at South Hadley High School. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH ROBERTSON

  • Bags filled with food line a hallway at South Hadley High School on Monday during the eighth annual Bag the Community food drive, which saw a record number of volunteers. SARAH ROBERTSON—GAZETTE STAFF

  • A new organizational system made sorting easier for Bag the Community volunteers on Monday.  SARAH ROBERTSON—GAZETTE STAFF

  • South Hadley Middle School student Cameron Williams, 12, pushes a cart followed by Henriz Henry, 14, filled with donated food to be sorted at the eighth annual Bag the Community food drive. SARAH ROBERTSON—GAZETTE STAFF

  • Lucy Howe, 7, says her favorite part about volunteering with Bag the Community is sorting the cans of food. SARAH ROBERTSON—GAZETTE STAFF

  • Mary Loud Guarnera, head of the South Hadley food pantry Neighbors Helping Neighbors Inc., says the Bag the Community food drive provides about 40 percent of the pantry’s food for the year. SARAH ROBERTSON—GAZETTE STAFF

Staff Writer
Published: 1/17/2018 10:47:22 PM

SOUTH HADLEY — The eighth annual Bag the Community food drive saw a record number of volunteers over Martin Luther King Jr. Day weekend, making for quick work and a festive community atmosphere on collection day.

About 200 people showed up on Saturday to distribute the bags, and about 300 pitched in Monday to collect and sort at South Hadley High School. Among them were volunteers from Berkshire Bank, Mount Holyoke College, the South Hadley Select Board and staff from the high school and middle school.

“There’s no such thing as too many volunteers, but we were really shoulder to shoulder,” said Sue Brouillette, founder and lead coordinator for Bag the Community. “It was a great day. It feels a little bit festive and we get a tremendous amount of work done so it’s a great combination.”

On Saturday drivers embarked on 54 different routes throughout South Hadley, dropping off empty grocery bags on people’s front doors, organized by Department of Public Works Superintendent Jim Reidy. Monday morning, the volunteer drivers followed the same routes collecting the bags filled with donated food and delivered them to the high school.

“This food drive brings people together in a way nothing else does,” said Mary Loud Guarnera, head of the South Hadley food pantry Neighbors Helping Neighbors Inc.

According to Guarnera, the food pantry serves 150 households, or about 400 individuals. They come twice a month for nonperishables and fresh meat, dairy and produce, much of it coming from local farms.

“The food drive has been a really important vehicle for donations to our food pantry,” said Select Board Chairwoman Sarah Etelman as she sorted cans Monday. “And it is important for the community to get involved as much as they can. It’s a day off for most people so it’s a really nice day for people to get together and contribute.”

Brouillette said they did not weigh the food received this year, but volunteers did fill a tractor-trailer truck and five vans, about equal to the amount of food collected last year. While the tractor-trailer brought food to storage, the five vans full of perishable food items went straight to the pantry. The pantry distributes about 132,000 pounds of food per year, with about 40 percent coming from the food drive, she said.

The food pantry also received about $3,000 in cash donations from Bag the Community. With $1, the pantry can distribute 14 pounds of food, according to Guarnera.

Justin Roberts, 19, goes to Holyoke Community College and has volunteered with Bag the Community since its first year when he was 10 years old. He wore a Campbell’s Soup can costume over his clothes, given to him by another volunteer, Steph Holmes, his former eighth-grade math teacher at Michael E. Smith Middle School.

“I always do this because my mom used to do it,” Roberts said. “But as time goes on I just figured, I know people who have to get food from the food pantry and they need volunteers, so why not?”

Lucy Howe, 7, was a repeat volunteer, too. She says her favorite part is sorting the donated food with her mother, Jeanne Howe.

“I really especially enjoyed having children there this year — they make it so much more fun,” Brouillette said.

She tells anyone eager to volunteer that any children from age 3 to 90 can participate. Next year, they plan to post pictures of the food labels to help children who can’t yet read sort the food.

Sarah Robertson can be reached at srobertson@gazettenet.com.

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