First Parish Food Pantry Expands to Help the Needy

Tuesday April 02, 2024

Jane Merrow in front of the new addition

REGIONAL – It was raining on the Friday morning before Easter when dozens of volunteers for the First Parish Food Pantry gathered, as usual, to fill bags with groceries and a special candy treat for the needy.
The rain forced the volunteers inside the 2,400-square-foot metal warehouse building instead of setting up tables outside on the parking lot. With most of the space in the building taken up with shelving to store food and other necessities, the volunteers were “squished” into a relatively small space near the door.
“It really gets small,” said Jane Merrow, director of the pantry.
But this spring, that challenge will be solved when contractors, donating much of their time, will complete a new 20-foot by 39-foot addition on the south end of the building. Merrow said the original plan was to be 40 feet long, but it was cut short by a foot to keep from intruding on a neighbor.
The addition will provide space for a walk-in freezer and refrigerator, add more space for dry goods, including several stacks of bread. It will be large enough for trucks to unload entire pallets of food that come from the new multi-agency hub in Salisbury.
And it will allow the volunteers on a rainy, cold day like last week to work inside in a larger space while they fill 750 bags of food. About two thirds of the bags for about 300 families are delivered by volunteers driving their cars and a van that belongs to the Seacoast Food Providers.
“We are so blessed to have this big building,” Merrow said. But the need in the community has the pantry bursting at the seams.
The almost 800-square-foot addition will cost between $130,000 and $150,000, Merrow estimates. Those funds come from donations.
To save money, the windows in the rear of the building are being repurposed for use in the new addition.
“This community is incredibly generous,” Merrow said.
The pantry started in a small library of the church almost a decade ago. It quickly outgrew that space, as the need for food grew for families living in Newbury and Byfield, Newburyport, West Newbury, Salisbury, Rowley, Ipswich and Georgetown.
During the Covid pandemic when in-person church services were suspended, the pantry took over the pews in the sanctuary.
Typical of the pantry’s innovative leadership, the empty wooden pews, choir room and wall space became the shelves and cold storage for the food and supplies. Along with Bibles and hymnals jars of peanut butter, pies and boxes of pasta, particularly Mac and Cheese filled the pews.
Alan Bull, a local artist, teacher and illustrator, captured the organized chaos of the operations in a painting he has donated to the pantry to raise funds for the pantry’s operations.
Post-Covid, when the church wanted its sanctuary back, Merrow and her legions of supporters and volunteers raised about $320,000 to erect the current building at the rear of the church.
Now, Coffey Design and Builders, Atlantic Contract Systems and Caswell Mechanical have stepped up again to build the expansion, which will make the pantry and its volunteers even more efficient.
The “guests” of the pantry are so appreciative of the food, Merrow said, they often write thank you notes or tell the volunteer who delivers the food a story about how the food helps them.
Each Friday before the volunteers begin filling bags, Merrow said the notes are read to the volunteers. “It feels good. It is very heard warming.”
If you are ready to volunteer, please call 978-358-1077 or email

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