By Yadira Betances
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HAVERHILL — Almost a month after Catholic Charities closed the Open Hand Pantry, churches, community groups, businesses and politicians rallied around to reopen it.
The effort paid off.
On Aug. 6, the pantry again begins distributing supplemental groceries to needy families and individuals at the Unitarian Universalist Church, 15 Kenoza Ave. under a different name.
The Rev. Robert W. Murray, pastor of St. James and St. John the Baptist Parish got the ball rolling after he received half a dozen calls and several of his parishioners expressed concern on what was going to happen to the pantry’s clients, especially those who did not have transportation to go to pantries on the other side of the city.
“As soon as we heard the announcement, people got together and decided to give it a shot,” said Murray, a priest for 25 years. “A lot of people came forward to offer their help.”
St. James and St. John the Baptist will oversee the pantry with volunteers from both churches and other congregations. Melissa Ganais who has worked at the pantry through Catholic Charities, will remain with the ministry.
The Rev. Frank Clarkson, pastor at the Unitarian Church and the church’s board voted to keep the pantry continue operating out of its basement as it has done since 2001.
“It was possible for our board to find another tenant where we could make more money, but the pantry is a vital part of the community and it’s more important to us to have them,” Clarkson said.
Members of the Activities Committee at St. James and St. John the Baptist donated $3,000 to pay for a year’s rent at the pantry. The 30-member group raised the money through a roast pork dinner, church picnic, cookie walk and raffles. Their biggest fundraiser was charging for parking at St. John during the Fourth of July festivities.
“We knew a lot of families depend on it and we didn’t want them to go without,” said Jessica Brewster of the Social Activities Committee at St. James and St. John parish.
Murray also reached out to Mayor James Fiorentini and City Councilor Mike McGonagle and State Rep. Brian Dempsey.
Susan Harrington, administrative assistant at St. James and St. John the Baptist helped fill out grant applications including one for indigent elderly people by the George C. Wadleigh Foundation of Groveland. They received a $9,000 Community Development Block Grant from the city’s Community Development Department.
“I recognize this is one of the basic works of the church to feed the poor and I think it’s tremendous that so many people have assisted in this important work,” Murray said.
In addition to the groceries the Open Hand Pantry receives from Merrimack Valley Food Bank, donations from bakeries, farms and individuals, they will also offer vegetables thanks to Jim Rapoli, Eric and Kathy Darby.
Rapoli donated land next to St. John the Baptist Church where he and the Darbys created “St. Joseph’s Garden. Pentucket Bank provided financial help which allowed them to purchase garden tools and seeds. They have planted tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots and peppers. Rapoli also set aside land at his home in Plaistow so the pantry can grow more produce for its clients.
Murray is encouraging members of other churches in Haverhill to use the garden and donate what they produce to the pantry.
The desire to keep the pantry open went beyond Haverhill and southern New Hampshire. Bill LaPierre, who runs the food pantry at Sacred Hearts Parish in Bradford and Ken Campbell, food coordinator for Lazarus House Ministries also met with them to offer suggestions.
Kathy Darby, owner of Pizzazze Salon said there are several reasons why there was a community effort to reopen the pantry.
“As a parish community, we need to help the poor in the city,” Darby said. The collaboration and outreach has been incredible. We’re not going to let it go. It’s moving quickly and becoming very real because we’re going to make sure we’ll feed these people.”
“It’s a real act of faith in his (Murray) part and the people of his church. Part of our mission is to help the community and this is the least we can do,” Clarkson said.
“As people of faith, we’re called to serve people in need the best way we can . The pantry has a big impact on the people it serves and it’s not right to let it die,” Clarkson said.
Other food pantries in Haverhill All Saints Church Rectory, 120 Bellevue Ave., Tuesdays 3 to 5 p.m. and Saturdays, 10 a.m. to noon. Sacred Hearts parish office, 48 S. Chestnut St., Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, 8:30 to 11:15 a.m. The Salvation Army, 395 Main St., Monday, Wednesdays and Fridays, 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. Veterans Food Pantry, 10 Reeds St., for veterans and their families, Tuesdays and Thursdays, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.