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Out & About: White River Junction United Methodist Church sets up 24-hour food pantry

  • The White River Junction United Methodist Church has been providing 24-hour access to food for those in need for more than a month. Members of the community can pick up what they need from the three bins. (Hannah Cerasoli photograph)

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 4/21/2020 9:37:01 PM
Modified: 4/21/2020 9:36:55 PM

WHITE RIVER JUNCTION — Three large bins filled with food sit outside the White River Junction United Methodist Church downtown in the village.

The bins, called the Sharing & Caring Food Program, have sat there 24/7 since March 20 — just before stay-at-home orders took effect, schools switched to remote learning and furloughs and layoffs began.

“We were kind of very quickly thrown into this whole virus situation, but we could tell that initial week that things were starting to get pretty serious,” said Hannah Cerasoli, who organizes the Sharing & Caring Food Program. “We’ve always kind of had a vision of doing something to this extent because we feel there’s a lot of need downtown. If you’re somebody who doesn’t have a car, but you live in downtown, even getting up to the (Upper Valley Haven) can be challenging.”

Within hours of that first day, all the food in the bins outside the white church, located at 106 Gates St., was gone.

“If anything, having done this for a month now, it’s just validated the fact that there is such a need in this area,” said Cerasoli, a White River Junction resident. “We are not in it to compete with any resources in town. We just see this as another supplemental need.”

In addition to canned goods and other nonperishable items, there are coolers that hold fresh produce. Originally, the church started with two, but added a third for toiletry items and pet food. That bin is now primarily used to store food, but personal care items and pet food can still be found.

Cerasoli, who works as a paraprofessional at White River School, checks the bins multiple times per day.

“We have called on the community to come and help us and we have seen so many donations which is incredible,” Cerasoli said. “Everything goes. I have not seen a single thing that has not gone.”

During the second week the bins were out, one of the coolers was stolen.

“I was a little daunted at that point. You hope somebody really needed it,” Cerasoli said. “I think that’s when we saw a little bit of an uptick in donations because people really did want to support.”

Area businesses such as Stern’s Quality Produce and Jake’s Market and Deli have contributed food, as well as the school district, Cerasoli said. The church is also working with the Hartford Community Coalition. People may add food items directly to the bins, or contact the church via their Facebook page, “White River Jct. United Methodist Church,” if they have a large amount of items to donate.

“If we did not have these people helping us our food would not be able to stretch this far and I do not know where we would be at this point,” Cerasoli said. “It’s been so amazing. You hope that something like this will work, but you just don’t really know until you try it.”

The church is exploring ways to keep the pantry running after the COVID-19 pandemic is over.

“You kind of hope in times like this that there can be some positive take-away,” Cerasoli said. “This community in the Upper Valley is really banding together and I think it’s pretty safe to say we care about each other as a community.”

Liz Sauchelli can be reached at esauchelli@vnews.com or 603-727-3221.




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