There in Times of Need
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I cannot think of anything more discouraging then not being able to put food on the table, especially if you have children. Not being able to sit down at the kitchen table and share a plate of hot food must magnify every small problem in your day. And even here on our little island, some of our neighbors face that sad daily reality.
In a small basement room, in the St. Paul’s Parish House, Kevin Dugan chips away at hunger one bag of groceries and one smile at a time. This is the Nantucket Emergency Food Pantry. You stop by, fill out a small form with your name, address and phone number, and one of the people who help him run the pantry will hand you a bag of groceries. Simple as that.
“The key is to keep it all simple,” he said. “This is an emergency food kitchen and when you come here you do not need the food next week, you need it today. You want to leave with food, not three pounds of paperwork. Sometimes people make things complicated, but we need to keep this simple.”
On this rainy afternoon, a few days before Thanksgiving, he is asking about milk. Does someone need milk, or cheese? Do they need a turkey for the holiday? Dugan is a big man, with a friendly demeanor and a wide smile. He began volunteering at the pantry when it was run by John Maury, who was a bigger-than-life kind of guy.
“I asked him one day if he needed a volunteer,” Dugan said. “He said sure, but he made it clear that if I said I wanted to help out he expected me to show up. I showed up. I enjoyed it. I eventually took over running it.”
The closest Dugan gets to introspection is to shrug and say, “It was very gratifying, you know? It still is.” People need food, the food pantry has food. He does not treat it like a big deal, although if you are hungry it is a very big deal.
One day a group of kids from a kindergarten class stopped by the pantry on a field trip. He asked them if they thought that on Nantucket everyone has plenty of money. They all agreed it was so. He asked them if they thought anyone went to bed hungry the night before. He asked them if everyone they knew had a good breakfast that morning. They all answered yes, no, yes, in that automatic way of responding.
Duggan shrugs at the story. “They were just kids. They didn’t really understand.” He has a habit of stopping short and letting you finish the thought. There are plenty of grown-ups who think the same way. Do people go to bed hungry on Nantucket? The answer is yes, of course, even before this financial meltdown we find ourselves in the middle of these days.
“There are some really great builders on this island who now have nothing to do because of the economy,” said Dugan. “It’s not their fault. It is easy to get a little down on your luck and need a hand.”
Even if the economy gets better, there is always somebody who needs that helping hand. People get sick and can’t work. People lose their jobs. You can get food at the pantry up to six times a year, to tide you over.
Dugan’s day job is at Visitor Services, so it is not hard to find him.
“For better or worse I have sort of become the face of the food pantry,” he said. “People see me on the street and offer to help, although right now we are in pretty good shape. Or they tell me about someone who might not be doing so well.”
The food pantry is run as part of the Interfaith Council. They look to be well stocked for Thanksgiving, but Christmas is on the way and after that a long winter. They happily accept your donations. You very rarely see examples of it anymore, but Dugan and his volunteers are doing God’s work with a smile.
– John Stanton