By Seth Daniel
It’s been just over three months, but already the strength of the Everett community has shone through the new Grace Food Pantry at the First Baptist Church on Church Street.
The Pantry has existed for a few years at a Saugus church, with the pantry being founded by Rich DelRossi in memory of his late wife. The effort there was going full stride when the church suddenly shut down.
That’s when DelRossi got in touch with Paul and Irene Cardillo at the First Baptist and inquired about moving the Pantry to Everett.
“Their church had to shut down and Rich contacted me about moving it here,” said Cardillo. “I was asked to come see what they did and I fell in love with it. He came here and we got it set up and it’s been going every since. It was by fate that they came here. We weren’t thinking of anything like this, but there is obviously a great need. Since they’ve come, so many Everett families have been blessed.”
One former volunteer from Saugus, Eileen Browne, who has now come to the Everett version to volunteer, said she also believed it to be fate.
“I agree it was fate,” she said. “The funny thing is we did have people who came to us from other communities, but I have seen more people from Everett and this community coming through our door now.”
She also said the spirit with which Cardillo, the church community and the greater Everett community have taken to volunteering and helping out.
“This is only our third month and already the participation from the community is just amazing,” said Browne. “It’s very encouraging people are talking about us and lending so much community support.”
The Pantry is sponsored by the Greater Boston Food Pantry and takes place on Sunday morning in the church basement/auditorium once a month. The first operation came in October. In November, just prior to Thanksgiving, they were able to welcome 120 families to the church, delivering 20 packages to seniors and 15 packages to families for emergency food.
But it’s not just a food distribution.
Cardillo said church members and community members have banded together to make it an inviting and special time for families. It’s with that idea that families are served a warm meal before they collect their food. Volunteers set up on Saturday and begin cooking soup and other delicacies that are served at tables in the auditorium in the morning.
The church has even seen to make the Pantry fun for the whole family, inviting Santa Claus to last Sunday’s December distribution for a special visit – delighting all of the children. Hundreds of families attended, and that has become a regular occurrence.
On Sunday, the Pantry celebrated Christmas by distributing groceries, giving out hats and gloves, and welcoming Santa, who made a visit from the North Pole. Volunteers helped prepare the event and made sure all the children who attended had the opportunity to receive a toy from Santa while their families took home hearty food to prepare for Christmas.
“There really isn’t anything like this in Everett; there really isn’t, and the need is here, believe me,” said Cardillo. “I want people to feel at home when they come to this building and they do. We want to feed them and meet their needs…A lot of people who come and receive food end up becoming volunteers too. They want to give back. The amounts of people who want to volunteer here from this city is pretty great. These people have a passion.”
Added Browne, “It’s so great to see people wanting to do something that they know is bigger than themselves.”
Some of the volunteers include everyday folks, like regular volunteers Marie Tynan, Phyllis Barone, Fran Meredith and Debbie Severino.
Several politicians have also gotten wind of the new effort and have rolled up their sleeves to help.
Cardillo told of State Rep. Joe McGonagle showing up to help, and he ended up staying quite a while loading up cars with food using a two-wheeler.
“No one cares who anyone is; we just work to serve the needs here,” said Cardillo.
Councilor Michael McLaughlin said he found the Pantry in October, and was quite impressed with what they were doing.
“A few months back I was asked to volunteer at this monthly Food Pantry,” he said. “I truly knew nothing of this organization or all the good work that they were doing. During Thanksgiving I had the opportunity to volunteer and help ensure over a 100 families had a great Thanksgiving dinner. Now having the same opportunity this past Sunday to service well over 300 families from not only Everett, but also the surrounding communities, I give much thanks and praise to the founder Richard Del Rossi and Irene and Paul Cardillo. They together with family and friends have positively impacted hundreds of lives in our City.”
Cardillo and Browne said they have plenty of resources to serve people, even if they don’t technically qualify under the guidelines.
“The difference with this food pantry is we never say ‘no,’” said Browne. “If people come here and need help, they won’t leave empty handed. To us, it doesn’t matter. If people come here hungry and in need, we’re going to meet that need.”
Right now the Pantry is housed in a few rooms located in the basement of the large, old church building. Already, they have outgrown their storage room and moved into half of another room. That expansion has lit some fire to dreams of the future.
“Wouldn’t it be incredible to have a building and be able to serve people more than once a month?” asked Cardillo. “Wouldn’t it be nice to have a room full of freezer units on hand? The sky’s the limit.”