South Hadley prepares for ‘Bag the Community’ food drive Jan. 18-20

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SOUTH HADLEY — Neighbors Helping Neighbors Food Pantry will conduct the annual “Bag the Community” food drive on Martin Luther King weekend.

Volunteers will drop off bags at homes across South Hadley Jan. 18 and 19, followed by a Jan. 20 porch pickup. The nonperishable food is then sorted and boxed at South Hadley High School.

South Hadley High students founded the food drive in 2011 as a way to serve the community. The first drive coincided with the pantry’s opening at 30 Carew St. Mary Lou Guarnera, the pantry’s operations director, recalled the students distributed 1,000 bags but collected around 1,500.

Volunteers collected tens of thousands of pounds of food in 2019. However, the donations did not increase last year. Snow and a brutal windchill affected the pantry’s collection efforts, Guarnera said. She hopes this year will be better.

“We’re expecting wonderful participation from the community. They always come through, and our community supports us so well,” she said. “It’s heartwarming to see the kinds of things people do. They give their money, their food, their time.”

Guarnera said the high school fills with hundreds of volunteers on collection day, from children to seniors, all working together. “We can always use volunteers, especially in the cafeteria where we box the food,” she said.

As an incentive, the school’s culinary arts program prepares a spaghetti and meatball lunch for participants. “We don’t want to work them to death and not feed them,” Guarnera said.

The food drive remains a critical component in keeping the pantry’s shelves well-stocked.

“This year, in particular, we’re very anxious in having it be successful. There have been devastating SNAP (Supplement Nutrition Assistance Program) cutbacks,” she said. “There are more set to come.”

The Trump administration proposes dropping upward of 700,000 people from the federal nutrition program.

“We’re seeing a huge influx of customers because of this already. If they follow through with what they propose, there’re going to be kids not getting school lunches and seniors who won’t be getting food stamps. It’s going to be devastating,” Guarnera said.

Visit nhnfoodpantry.org or Facebook for more information about Bag the Community.

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