EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

January 15, 2014

Open Hand food pantry reopened

By Yadira Betances

---- — HAVERHILL — Heeding to the Bible verse from Matthew 25, members of St. James and St. John the Baptist parishes have been feeding 800 people for the past five months at the Open Hand Pantry.

But the pantry closed last June after Catholic Charities said it did not have enough money to hire more staff.

“We’re very glad we’re doing this,” said the Rev. Robert Murray, pastor of St. James and St. John the Baptist. “This is the fulfillment of the gospel’s call to feed the poor, care for those brothers and sisters who are hungry, clothe the naked and visit those in prison. It’s a good job description of a Christian.”

Although St. James and St. John the Baptist are now sponsoring it, the pantry remains at the Universalist Unitarian Church, 16 Ashland St., where it has been since 2001.

“We are thrilled to have them,” said Sally Liebermann, director of religious education at the Universalist Church.”It is our responsibility to share this ministry to our brothers and sisters in faith.”

St. James and St. John the Baptist parishes are hosting an open house at the pantry tomorrow from 5 to 7 p.m. They will honor Brian Dempsey, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. He recently received Project Bread’s “Hunger Hero” Award.

Melissa Ganais who worked at the pantry through Catholic Charities for five years, remained with the ministry.

“It was important to continue to help those in need of services to end hunger and poverty,” Ganais said. “They are part of our family and are blessed that our doors are opened, along with our hearts and minds.”

She said they look over appearance and serve anyone who comes to the door.

“It could be the Lord asking for help, one of us, a brother, a sister or one of our neighbors,” Ganais said.

After St. James and St. John the Baptist started sponsoring the pantry, they thought of changing its name, but Murray said they changed their mind.

“We did not want people to get confused or think we were not there any more,” he said.

The pantry is open on Tuesdays and Wednesdays weekly throughout the year. It distributes supplemental groceries to 800 families and individuals a month with the help of about 20 volunteers. They include previous clients, congregation members and area residents, Ganais said.

Instead of giving them a bag full of groceries, clients are escorted as they choose from the different food items, based on their dietary needs.

The Open Hand Pantry receives the majority of the food from the Merrimack Valley Food Bank in Lowell. Other sources include weekly donations from members of St. James and St. John the Baptist parishes. Haverhill Public Schools, Latitude Sports Club, Bradford Ski area and Merrimack Valley Hospital have also hosted food drives for the pantry.