By Stephen Dravis
07:37AM / Thursday, November 23, 2023
Volunteers Carol DeMayo, left, and Carin DeMayo-Wall organize distribution from Williamstown's Sts. Patrick & Raphael Parish twice each month.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — For several hours on a recent Wednesday morning, Carol DeMayo and the volunteers of the Williamstown Food Pantry distributed Thanksgiving baskets to 93 families.
The bundles included a turkey, canned goods, fresh squash, the ingredients for a homemade pumpkin pie … and a side of empathy and respect.
DeMayo, well into her fourth decade organizing the local non-profit, knew many if not most of the recipients who started lining up at 7:30, well before the announced 9 a.m. start of distribution.
And she took the time to get to know the ones she did not know and check in for updates on the lives of those she did.
There is the family that should have two incomes but for the fact that one of the parents has suffered three heart attacks and cannot work.
"They don't know how they're going to make it," DeMayo said. "It's just scary. They never thought they would be in this situation."
There is a woman whom DeMayo said has to be around 80 years old but still had her independence, until her car gave out.
"She's frantic," DeMayo said. "She's so frantic she's not going to have food when the family comes at Thanksgiving, and she wants everything to look fine."
The Williamstown Food Pantry is there for residents of Williamstown, New Ashford, Hancock and Pownal, Vt., all year round, distributing food and personal care items twice a month from its headquarters at Sts. Patrick and Raphael Parish on Southworth Street. DeMayo and her daughter, Carin DeMayo-Wall, also make house calls in between distribution dates, helping families through crises that arise.
At the holidays, the pantry runs a couple of special initiatives — the Thanksgiving baskets that were distributed on Nov. 15 and a partnership with Wild Oats Market for the "Families Feeding Families" initiative.
From Oct. 23 through Nov. 17, Wild Oats collected monetary donations from its shoppers to fund the purchase of prepared meals to be distributed to members of the community in time for the holiday.
A $30 donation funded an assortment of sides, including stuffing, mashed potatoes, glazed carrots, brussels sprouts, gravy, rolls, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie — all prepared on-site by the staff at Wild Oats. A $50 donation supported those sides plus two pounds of roasted turkey.
Wild Oats Marketing and Member Relations Manager Amy Carey said the monthlong donation drive funded 50 meals for distribution.
On Tuesday morning, Wild Oats staff, Food Pantry volunteers and Williamstown Police officers helped load cars filled with holiday food for transport from the market to the pantry for distribution.
DeMayo said recently that the Williamstown Food Pantry this fall saw a rise in demand for its twice-monthly food distribution. A program that regularly expected to see 40 to 50 families on a given Wednesday started seeing 60 recipients in need.
"It was just the increase by numbers that took us by shock — not surprise, shock," she said. "We were scraping our cabinet."
Fortunately, the pantry was able to restock its shelves in time for the holidays.
"We put out the call, and, boy, did people react," DeMayo said, pointing in particular to regular donation drives at local houses of worship like First Congregational Church and First Baptist Church.
"We couldn't believe how they reacted. We asked for donations through the church, St. Patrick's, and on Facebook."
The Food Pantry uses its Facebook account not only to put out calls for urgent donation needs but also to spread the word about other agencies helping the community, like the Family Center of Northern Berkshire County (Child Care of the Berkshires) in North Adams that runs free programs for families with young children and a free children's clothing exchange program, and the Berkshire Food Project, which held its Thanksgiving meal on Monday.
DeMayo also makes sure that recipients who show up in person to Food Pantry distributions learn about agencies that can help.
Sometimes, she helps by just lending an ear in the moment.
"When you look in the car, you never know, sometimes they have Grandma back there and she doesn't say a word, but when you talk to them, they're so happy," DeMayo said. "Things like that pull at your heart."