Joe Capobianco has been a busy guy during the pandemic. Lockdowns and government restrictions have forced people out of work, and food insecurity — already a big issue on the Island — has been exacerbated.
Capobianco is the facility and event manager at Good Shepherd Parish. These days, that means being the director of the food donation program and chief cook for the community suppers. He orders the food, makes two trips to Boston, returning with up to 6,000 pounds of food on Mondays and up to 8,000 pounds on Fridays. The church has purchased a refrigerated truck and a freezer to make it all work. We caught up with him in mid-February.
At one point it got a little slower, probably over the summer. But on Saturday, we were up to 220 boxes. I should say we made 220 boxes. Is that 220 vehicles? No, because in some of the vehicles there are two families per car. We put together a dry box, which is produce. They get cauliflower. They always get eggs. They always get milk. We had some lasagna noodles. We had spaghetti sauce. They always get bananas, eggs, and milk as staples … Whatever the [Greater Boston] Food Bank gives us, we take. They’re put together in the parish center. Then they get a box of frozen. The frozen this time was a cut-up chicken, a bag of blueberries, they got one pound of hamburger. They got some chicken tenders and a quart of soup.
I also stop at Olivia Organics [a Boston-based company that sells salads]. So they got some spinach, mesclun, and a couple of types of salads — and then we put a bag of potatoes in the car. So there are four people filling the cars — one is a box, one is a salad, one person grabs the milk, and the other grabs the potatoes. We used to fill two cars at once; now we do just one.
We used to do [baskets] prior to COVID, but we used to have them come into the building. That’s why we were called Food Baskets MV. People would come in and fill up baskets and take what they need, rather than us tell them what they’re taking. I’ve asked people, and they said, Don’t change anything. Some people have said they’d like to see some cereal, but the cereal takes up too much space, and it’s not really good cereal from the Food Bank. It’s the cheap stuff. We had people returning it to us when we did the baskets.
So now we’re just doing Saturdays, every other Saturday. We are open on Tuesdays for veterans, from 8 am to 12 noon. So veterans can actually come in and we take their temperature, they sign in, wash their hands with sanitizer, and take what they need and leave. We have about eight veterans coming in. We hope it gets busier for us. Bob Tankard set that up for us to allow one person in at a time. We have a roof out there so they can wait. They’re pretty good about it.
So when COVID happened … I put together a team of just my family [and his assistant Janay Dlabaj and her daughter — more on them later], because we were going to try to keep it close … My wife’s a nurse, so we would wash our hands, wear gloves, and put a mask on. Then it got bigger and bigger. We were doing 300 boxes during [the early days of] COVID. We had to bring in more people … We kept it a close network. We didn’t want to just bring too many volunteers in because we didn’t know where they were coming from.
The first week we did it, it was a mess. They were all the way down to Our Market, and the police actually shut us down. We didn’t know where to put the cars. They were down New York Ave. So we asked the town if we could use the cemetery, and the cemetery said yes. I go out and I put down cones … It’s been pretty good. They start coming at 8:30 am, we don’t start until 10:30 am, and we fill the bags that day. I go to the Food Bank on Fridays, and we have no place to put the stuff that’s in the truck. We unload the trucks that morning, fill our bags, and whatever is left over we put in our cooler. Last week, we did 220, and we had two boxes left over. We did good.
I think we have the exact same people who come every week. I see a guy who comes every week for his dad, who is 90. I know him. I see some other people come … You don’t really know what their issue is. It could be money. It could be something else going on with their household … If they’re asking for it, they really need it. I don’t think anyone is really taking advantage of it. If 10 people out of the 220 people do, I don’t care.
I am doing it as an outreach program for Good Shepherd Parish. I get a salary from Father Mike [Nagle]. This is a program that without him saying let’s keep doing this, we would stop … I try to do most of the work. But I couldn’t do it without the volunteers, I couldn’t do it. I can get the food, I can order the food, I can bring the food to the Island, but then I need help getting it out of the truck and into the boxes. It’s part of my job for Good Shepherd … It’s part of what Father Nagle has let me do. He never said no to me. The program just keeps on growing.
I enjoy doing it. It makes you feel better. My son comes back every week. My kids, they get something out of it. Giving to people who really are in need.
Capobianco insisted we speak to Janay Dlabaj, his assistant, who does much of the required paperwork, and then volunteers on donation day with her daughter, Jesse. She moved to the Island with her husband and family. Her husband is assigned to Station Menemsha with the U.S. Coast Guard.
It definitely took us a bit to figure out how to do it. We started out with bags … Joe was really good with that, figuring out the space we need. He did a lot with the transition, figuring out how many volunteers. Just a lot of trial and error. We used to be there seven hours or so, and now it’s not as long as that. It was definitely a process, getting it figured out. But Joe did a good job figuring it all out.
Bags were falling over everywhere. We were literally blocking traffic. So now we do it through the cemetery, and we have volunteers who do traffic for us. The police don’t like us blocking roads like we were — and rightfully so.
It makes you feel like … Even for us it was hard. Especially at the beginning of COVID, it was hard. Nobody was getting out of cars. How do we safely do this? At first we tried to keep it to our families, because we knew what all of us are doing. That nobody was going out and being unsafe. I have young kids, and it was definitely a scary time. But now we’re a well-oiled machine.
Helping people is wonderful. If the need is there and we can provide help for that need. What an amazing opportunity it is to help people … I definitely look forward to doing it with my own child.
I’ve lived in a lot of different places. We’ve been in the service 17 years, and I’ve never seen a community like this community. Not just the food distribution, but even what M.V. Community Services has to offer for the little kids on Mondays and Wednesdays is amazing. Even the libraries and what they have to offer. I’ve never seen a community so giving.