REGIONAL – The food pantry at Newbury’s First Parish Church held a groundbreaking last week to build a 2,400-square-foot building that allows the pantry that serves more than 300 people a week to return to its roots at this historic church.
“It couldn’t come soon enough,” said Jane Merrow, who heads the pantry operations. “It’s the beginning and the end. It is a coming together, bringing us back to the church where it all started. It is about the community. The community has kept it going. It is wonderful.”
The pantry and its legions of supporters and volunteers raised about $320,000 over the last year to pay for constructing the building. Several construction contractors are also volunteering their time, expertise and equipment to make the building a reality.
Merrow, who lifted the first shovel of dirt, thanked “the generosity of hundreds of donors from our community who have helped make today possible.”
Major donors included the Institution for Savings Charitable Foundation, which pledged $25,000, and the Mary-Jo and Bryce Anderson, who hosted a fundraising event in their home that raised $15,000.
Significant contributions were also made by the Snell family, the Nun at Heart Foundation, the Taylor and Buckley families, the Howard Benevolent Society, Karen Jones, the Sean Perkins Foundation and New England BioLabs.
Boston Orchestra principal oboist Andrew Price also organized a summer concert by the Essex Ensemble of top area musicians at Maudslay Arts Center to raise additional funds for the building.
Contractors donating their time, skills and equipment include Bryce Anderson of Coffey Design and Build, Charlie Forrestal of Atlantic Contract Systems and Jeff Caswell of Caswell Mechanical.
For the next few months while the building rises from the ground behind the church at 20 High St., the pantry will continue to operate in a small warehouse at 89 Hanover St. near the Newbury Elementary School, owned by the Andersons.
“We are so grateful to have the use of the garage leased by the Anderson family, but we are really squished in there,” Merrow said. The new 40-foot by 40-foot building will allow the pantry to have additional shelving for items that can be more spaced out for easier access.
Being at the church also affords more parking for volunteers and guests. And the more space will permit the pantry to operate its free farmers market outside during nice weather for people to select their own fresh produce.
Once the pandemic abates, Merrow said the plan is to allow people again to select their own food items.
“Most importantly, the First Parish Newbury Food Pantry will have a home,” Merrow said.
The pantry started in a small library of the church more than six years ago church. It quickly outgrew that space. When the Pandemic hit and in-person church services were suspended, the pantry took over the pews in the sanctuary of the church which traces its roots to 1635.
Typical of the pantry’s innovative leadership style, the empty wooden pews, choir room and wall space became the shelves and cold storage for the food and supplies. With Bibles and the hymnals in the racks behind the pews, there were jars of peanut butter, pies and boxes of pasta, particularly Mac and Cheese. Pews were devoted to gluten free products and pet foods and supplies.
Alan Bull, a local artist, teacher and illustrator, captured the organized chaos of the operations in a painting he has donated to the pantry. It will be auctioned off to raise funds for the pantry’s operations.
The town of Newbury also has earmarked $100,000 in federal pandemic relief for the pantry, which will be used to buy food and pay continuing expenses, said Mary Murray, the pantry’s treasurer.