BELCHERTOWN – The Belchertown Community Aid Network collected a “Mountain of Food” last Saturday at Town Hall to benefit local food pantries and organizations.
With only a few weeks of planning, Belchertown CAN decided a drive for non-perishable food items was needed.
The stage and floor in the hall’s auditorium overflowed with boxes of pasta, sauces, canned goods, jars of peanut butter, and other essentials to assist families during the economic downturn.
Volunteers unloaded cars filled with bags and boxes of food. The items were then taken up stairs to be inventoried and separated for distribution.
“We really came together in response to the new president’s call for increased community service and the ‘CAN’ is a little take-off on ‘Yes We Can,’ the slogan of our new president,” said Gail Granarossa, one of the organizers of the event.
The incoming president proclaimed Monday, Jan.19 as a national day of community service.
Formed in December, she said the group is not political. With each meeting held, the organization has picked up members and continues to grow. After some research Belchertown CAN decided on a food drive.
“So we thought, ‘what’s the need in our community,’” said Granarossa. “We started hearing from more people that the three food pantries in town, along with the Amherst Survival Center, given the economic situation, that they were seeing more people who were coming in. The supply of the food tends to dwindle after the holidays.”
Granarossa said the group had collection boxes stationed at schools and businesses for the last two weeks. They also received assistance from the Boys and Girls Scouts as well as 4-H.
A large network of donors and volunteers began to form as emails and flyers were used to get the word out about the drive.
“It’s been all the different groups kind of coming together, from all the organizations, people over at Stop & Shop shopping, at Checkers, all the school groups. Some of them brought their stuff in yesterday, some of them today,” said Granarossa.
She was surprised by the amount collected and wondered prior to the event if the drive would be successful. As residents continued to drop off food throughout the day and as floor space became scarce, it became apparent her worries were unfounded.
Diane Mas, who donated a few bags of food in the afternoon, said she heard about the food drive when she received an email from the Belchertown Equine Association. She said the horse group encouraged people to not only donate food for families, but include pet food in their donations.
“Often times people can’t get pet food through a food pantry for their animals,” said Mas.” She and her husband, Eric, along with their three children, donated a few bags of regular food and some cat food.
Besides reading about the food drive in local papers, including the Sentinel, her children brought home flyers with a list of needed items. Mas said she appreciates the grass-roots effort.
“We actually grew up in town. It’s really nice to see, for the size of the town for how it’s grown over the past ten, twenty years, that it really is very much still a community. That’s nice,” said Mas.
She said the call to community services seems to be resonating. “You often think, ‘I should do something,’ but then to actually do it is another step forward. It was really nice to see this and I think the call to service this past week was an inspiration for a lot of people,” said Mas.
To get residents’ attention as they passed town hall, PJ Adzima, 15, a sophomore at Holyoke Catholic High School in Chicopee, danced, shouted, and held a sign to get residents to donate food.
Holyoke Catholic requires students to perform community service a number of hours each year. He had five-hours more to fulfill the requirement and heard about the food drive in the paper. He then decided to volunteer his talent and services.
“I’m a performer, actually. I’m very much involved with theater for the rest of my life,” said Adzima as he took a break from the frigid temperatures outside. “I figured the best way to get attention is standing outside with a big ol’ sign, dancing like crazy.”
Volunteers said Adzima was credited with getting drivers to go home or head to a local store to gather up donations and return to Town Hall.
“I was out there and most people stopped, honked or they yelled things out the window. Some people were happy to see me doing it and some people yelled things at me that weren’t exactly the nicest things. I just smiled, gave them a big thumbs up, and they kept driving,” said Adzima.
He said the sense of community in Belchertown has been strong over the last few months.
“I think it’s very cool that all these people are getting really involved now. It’s a really good sense of community,” said Adzima.
To learn more about Belchertown Community Aid Network and future events, visit their website at: http://www.belchertowncan.org.