On the frigid morning of January 21st, 2013, scores of volunteers including South Hadley High students, town residents, and a new crop of spring Mount Holyoke admits bundled up and set out to tackle the Martin Luther King Day Food Drive. The event, which began three years ago, is a collaborative effort between Mount Holyoke College and Neighbors Helping Neighbors, South Hadley's food pantry, designed not only to collect pantry items, but to help bring the town together as well. A week before the drive, volunteers distributed brown paper bags throughout the town for residents to fill with donations to the pantry. On Martin Luther King Day, the volunteers' mission was to pick up the bags, sort the items, and load them onto a trailer parked on the front lawn of the high school (hopefully avoiding any cases of frostbite in the process).
Volunteers split into groups. Some offered the use of their cars to pick up the bags, while others stood outside to unload them onto carts and wheel them into the lobby of the school. Inside, sorters sent food items down one hallway and paper goods down another to rooms stacked high with labeled orange Rubbermaid bins and packed full with people to further sort the haul. People of all sorts and all ages were present; teens, retired folks, South Hadley firefighters...even state representative John Scibak was present to support of the town's efforts. Clients of the food pantry were also among volunteers, happy to be able to give back to the organization that had lent them a helping hand. The CBL department was present also, of course! Sarah Chase, MHC alum and new employee, was present to lend a helping hand, as was CBL fellow Caitlin Kidder, who will be in charge of much of the coordination between the college and the food pantry during the 2013 spring semester. Anika Gearhardt helped to photograph the event, as did Alan Bloomgarden, director of the CBL program.
Carol Isakson, director of Neighbors Helping Neighbors, was at the top of the chain of command in organization of the volunteers, which proved to be no slight task. The volunteer response for the event was overwhelming; Mount Holyoke's new spring admits alone numbered into the sixties. Even with hundreds of eager volunteers to direct and manage, Carol kept her cool and maintained a sense of humor, wrapping up an address to the buzzing roomful of sorters with an instruction to give her "a round of applause, please."
Though the volunteers were many, no body's presence went to waste, and no job was too small. There was even a designated "door holder" for each entrance, helping to expedite the process. The enthusiastic team kept up their energy throughout the morning with coffee, donuts, and other snacks, and took a break mid-afternoon to re-fuel with a pizza lunch. The operation was a success, both in collecting an impressive amount of goods for the pantry and in bringing the South Hadley community together for a good cause.