Feeding families in need

Vineyard Committee on Hunger gives out food ahead of Easter Weekend.

Food donations ready to be claimed. –Brian Dowd

As Stop & Shop workers enter the second week of their strike, questions and concerns have been raised about perishable foods at the Edgartown and Vineyard Haven stores, and whether they are going to waste. Betty Burton wants to let people know, under her watch, no food is going to waste.

Burton, who is president of the Vineyard Committee on Hunger and a coordinator with Serving Hands and Family to Family, went to Stop & Shop and spoke with the shop steward and store managers to get perishable food donations ahead of Easter Weekend. On Tuesday, Burton received 300 pounds of meat, cheese, and fish. By Friday, her haul had come close to 1,000 pounds of food, including produce and other foods that would expire.

The food was given out at the First Baptist Church in Vineyard Haven on Friday. People and families in need crowded onto Williams Street, and got in a line stretching around the corner up Spring Street.

“Everybody needs all the things that they’re giving out. It’ll be great, the food will have a home,” Burton said.

Prepackaged bags were prepared with potatoes, onions, apples, and pineapple tins. Anyone who grabbed a bag was able to get frozen turkey and chicken breast, ground beef, and a dozen eggs.

As families lined up outside, Edgartown School student Danika Peters, 8, was spending a day of her school vacation adorned with rabbit ears and wearing a tail, ushering people in and giving them numbers so they could sit in their cars and still keep their spot in line.

The bounty of food filled the church and stretched down its hallways, as people could pick up salad dressings, hams, soups, oatmeal, juice, bread, soymilk, ground beef, eggs, chicken breast, peanut butter, and just about anything else you could find at a supermarket — all free of charge.

As people walked by to get food, Burton made sure everyone took two boxes of cereal: “I’m telling everyone to take two boxes. We have so much cereal,” she said.

Burton said she expects to get bags of food to about 200 families, including delivery bags.

Along with prepackaged foods, Family to Family set up a children’s table for families with kids who could grab a little extra food. Folks from the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) volunteered to help give out produce, and will return up-Island with food for the tribe. Alicia Nicholson, the coordinator for Daybreak, a day program for adults with mental illness, was able to transport the program’s clients to the church to help with donations, and to set up tables. “We help with the entire operation from beginning to end,” Nicholson said.

In addition to the people and families coming to the church, Burton set up delivery bags that will be delivered to those who can’t transport themselves.

While Stop & Shop was able to donate hundreds of pounds of food, other Island establishments contributed as well. Cronig’s Market, Morning Glory Farm, Slough Farm, Heidi Feldman and Curtis Friedman of Martha’s Vineyard Sea Salt, and Down Island Farm, and several others donated produce, meat, soup, and more.

Burton added that the donations were possible with all the hard work of the Committee on Hunger, Serving Hands, and Family to Family. She also thanked Island Food Products, which helped with storing food before it was given out to families, and the Greater Boston Food Bank, which frequently supplies food for those in need to the Island.

If people want to make monetary donations, they can send them to Family to Family, P.O. Box 4685, Vineyard Haven, MA 02568.

Leo Christian, the pastor of First Baptist, and his wife Cynthia were helping set up donation tables, and praised the efforts of the community.

“It’s a joy,” Christian said. “Thank God for all of this food and that it’s not going to waste.”