By Mac Cerullo
---- — NEWBURYPORT — The summer is typically a slow time of year for food pantries, but Community Service, Inc. of Newburyport has lined up an impressive series of food drives to keep its shelves stocked as the supply of holiday donations begins to dwindle.
On Saturday, the National Association of Mail Carriers collected food as part of their Stamp Out Hunger initiative, and Community Service will be among several local organizations that will receive donations.
Meanwhile, Pennies for Poverty held a food drive at Shaw’s this past weekend, and Community Service office worker Barbara Leary said they would be collecting those donations today.
“When it rains it pours,” Leary said in reference to the surge of donations she is expecting over the weekend.
Typically food pantries like Community Service see the most activity during the holiday months, particularly before Thanksgiving and Christmas, followed by a sizable dropoff the following months. Many organizations suffer shortages in the summer as the holiday supply runs low, making it difficult to meet demand if new donations can’t be found.
In order to help combat that trend, Community Service has worked out a system where a different church will collect donations every month of the year, and during the school year students from the Immaculate Conception School collect food as well.
This month, the Old South Church on Federal Street will be collecting donations, and next month People’s United Methodist Church will be collecting donations.
“Each month a church does a collection for us, so every month we have a different church that helps us out,” said Martha Arias, who helps run Community Service’s day-to-day operations with Leary.
Located on the second floor of the Masonic Temple at 31 Green St., Community Service, Inc. has been a fixture in Newburyport for over 100 years. Founded in 1912, the organization’s mission to provide the best possible assistance, referral services and common sense counseling to people in need has remained constant throughout its history.
The food pantry is a somewhat newer feature, and originally the organization used to give out food vouchers that local residents could take to Mr. Grocer and buy food, Arias said. Mr. Grocer was a local grocery store that used to be where CVS is now.
“They’d give them like $25 and they could go up and get milk or whatever they needed,” Arias said.
Community Service has moved around a lot over the years too, calling seven different spaces home over its 101-year history. The majority of that time was spent at The Community House at 2 Harris St., which Community Service called home from 1923 until 1984, before bouncing around from the YMCA to a location on Federal Street before settling at its current home on Green Street.
“I think at the time it was put out there that Community Service needed a home,” Arias said. “They needed to get out of Federal Street, so [former president] Lorraine Leary put out ‘can someone help us?’ and the Masons said ‘Yeah, we have this big room here, come on over.’”
Lorraine Leary was a fixture at Community Service for decades, serving multiple terms as president. Leary passed away in March at age 87.
“She was dynamic, she really was,” Arias said.
Under her leadership, Leary helped Community Service grow into the organization it is today. Residents in Newburyport, West Newbury and Newbury can take advantage of its food pantry, free clothing, personal care items, summer day camp and a Red Stocking program it runs around Christmas for families who can’t afford to buy their children presents.
Because Community Service does not receive outside funding, it heavily relies on donations, and Betty Leary said she’s hopeful this month’s food drives are bountiful.
“We always need peanut butter and jelly, cereal, fruit, coffee, it’s all stuff that we need ongoing,” Leary said. “Juices and snacks for the kids, cookies, crackers, the boxed meals, that sort of thing.”
Donors should be sure to check the expiration date on food before they give it, because Community Service can’t accept expired food. Leary joked that they have made one exception, however, when somebody came in around three years ago and donated a box of Kraft Macaroni & Cheese that expired on Aug. 26, 1987.
“We decided to hold on to it as a joke,” Leary said.