by Visvajit Sriramrajan, American Red Cross volunteer
Thursday, April 6, 2017 was a fairly busy day at the American Red Cross Food Program distribution, much as it is on any distribution day. But what wasn’t usual was a small accident that occurred that day: a loose piece of ceiling cement fell to the ground and grazed two people: a client and a staff member. Both were taken to the hospital, and thankfully, neither suffered any serious injuries. But in the interim hours, Red Cross staff was shaken, both by the unexpected accident and by the prospect that the Food Pantry would need to stay closed until further notice. According to Food and Nutrition Director, David Andre, the Food Pantry serves hundreds of people each week, providing basic quality foodstuffs to people struggling to make ends meet.
Both shaken and determined, Andre said, “We are the Red Cross —when a disaster strikes, the Red Cross does not close down for repairs.” He continued, “Far too many people rely on us to be open on schedule, and so closing our program for repairs is not a solution.”
While the Red Cross’ Disaster Relief team immediately began offering mental health support to the client and the staff in the pantry during the time of the incident, Andre was scrambling to find a way for the Saturday food distribution – just two days away – to move forward. After dozens of phone calls and back and forth with the city inspectors, the distribution went on as scheduled. But not in the building, which was still under inspection by city engineers. Instead, the pantry went off as planned in an outdoor market at Clifford Playground, a relatively large park behind the original building.
The event was incredibly successful: forty-five enthusiastic volunteers served an approximated 31,000 pounds of food to 656 families across the Boston area. Thousands upon thousands of food bags were assembled, food receptacles were efficiently wheeled to the park, and intake and distribution areas were neatly set up, all a safe distance away from the repair work being done in the warehouse.
The Red Cross’ Boston pantry is considered one of the largest pantries in the city of Boston in both the amount of food provided and number of families served. In 2016, the pantry distributed over 1.8 million meals to 122,550 individuals. The majority of the food was fresh produce. About 9,400 families use the pantry during the year.
Although the unfortunate accident that transpired on April 6 caused injuries and building damage, it galvanized the staff and volunteers of the Red Cross of Massachusetts Food Pantry. And thanks to a special permit issued by the City of Boston, the Red Cross was able to stage its food distribution out of the Clifford Playground throughout the month of April.
Through the sacrifice and dedication of the organization’s volunteers, and particularly the pantry staff of Peter Hubbard, Sharon Curry, Bill Hill, and Suresh Mijar, the show must and will (and did) go on.