Wakefield Food Pantry celebrates million-meal milestone

Courtesy of the Rochester Voice

SANBORNVILLE – The Wakefield Food Pantry just reached the milestone of distributing more than 1 million meals to its clientele across five towns since opening.

WFP President Howie Knight and WFP Operations Manager Janet Miller – the only remaining founding members – reflected on this recent WFP breakthrough, the pantry’s remarkable start and expansion, and the impact of COVID-19.

“Reaching the million meal mark this week (officially March 25) is a testament to the generosity of our whole community; individuals, business and foundations,” shared Howie Knight, “It also took thousands of hours from our dedicated volunteer group.”

“This is truly a community success story as we’re merely the WFP care takers,” Janet Miller agreed. She acknowledged the “spectacular efforts being made by many of the volunteers to keep the food coming in, to prepare bags to go out and doing extra deliveries. Our volunteers also serve cheerfully, with great spirit, team work and humor.”

The WFP began as an official 501(c)(3) charity organization in the Wakefield Town Hall in 2004, initially inspired by Father Peter Faas of the Episcopal Church of St John the Baptist (Sanbornville, NH). Outgrowing the Town Hall, WFP moved to the current Wakefield Park and Rec building to operate for several years, but by 2010/2011 it was clear WFP again needed far more space.

Thanks to devoted WFP founders and the collective support of many, the dream of a larger dedicated facility for the Wakefield Food Pantry came to fruition when its current facility at 1500 Wakefield Road opened in January 2013. The WFP’s current 2,200 sqare foot building started with a $100,000 challenge grant from the Royal Little Family Foundation, provided the community could raise $50,000.

“In less than six months, our Wakefield community raised $66,000, local contractors donated more than $88,000 (time and materials) and townspeople overwhelmingly voted 86 percent to approve the new food pantry (99-year property lease for $1) on the 2012 ballot,” said Knight. This also allowed WFP to start its back-yard garden, which provides fresh produce in season for WFP recipients.

In particular, two very special benefactors, Cliff Bardsley and Pam Knight (Howie’s wife), made enormous contributions to today’s Wakefield Food Pantry. Cliff meticulously managed the WFP kitchen for nearly a decade. As WFP’s Secretary, Pam Knight helped implement the registration system and design the new building.

Cliff and Pam – who tragically died December 2011 and July 2012 respectively, and had worked so hard before it was finished – aptly have memorial plaques in their honor in the WFP’s kitchen and reception area.

A retired nurse, Miller also explained that WFP has significantly modified their operations, preparation and delivery practices to minimize the risks to all during the COVID-19 outbreak. “We’ve instituted more robust WFP cleaning and sanitation,” Janet shared, “Recipients are also very accepting of the need to do our new curbside or direct-to-vehicle delivery and are grateful for our efforts.”
Another noticeable change in the last few weeks is a dramatic increase in folks seeking help from WFP. “We served double the amount of people this week over last,” substantiated one WFP Registrar, Elaine Meagher, “Given the pandemic and recent increase in New Hampshire unemployment, we expect a continued rise in demand for the foreseeable future.” Elaine also noted that with local churches physically closing, an important weekly avenue of collections and donations has also unfortunately dried up.

With New Hampshire schools closed, hunger is especially hitting our community children hard. Thankfully, much of WFP efforts continue to directly help local children in need through the FIT (Food in Time) program for Wakefield School children.

Given the expected increases in demand in the coming weeks and months, the Wakefield Food Pantry is putting out a special plea to all for food and especially cash donations. Checks, made out to “Wakefield Food Pantry” can be mailed to WFP at PO Box 426, Sanbornville, NH 03872. Another simple ongoing way to help is through Amazon on-line shopping – simply choose the Wakefield Food Pantry at the smile.amazon.com program.

The Wakefield Food Pantry, (http://wakefieldnhfoodpantry.org) serves the villages of Wakefield and the nearby communities of Brookfield, Milton, Effingham, and Newfield, Maine.

Fueled by more than 75 volunteers and many special supporters, WFP is open Wednesday mornings (10 am to 1 pm) and evenings (5 pm to 7 pm).

The WFP is aided by Lovell Lake Food Center, Hannaford, the NH Food Bank, local churches, businesses and all who help WFP throughout the year.

“As always, through the enormous generosity and support of our incredible community, we’ll keep up with increasing Wakefield Food Pantry demands and we’ll get through our current challenges together,” said Knight.