SHIRLEY -- "Hey, Joyce!" yelled Scout leader and Shirley Selectman David Swain. "Guess what!"
"What?!" yelled back Joyce Reischutz, herself a Scout leader and current Ayer Shirley Regional School District school committee member.
"You just missed truck number three!"
With that, a gymnasium full of Girl, Daisy, Boy and Cub Scouts erupted in applause.
Truck number three was the third truckload of nonperishable food collected throughout the town of Shirley by area Scouts on Nov. 10.
The truck was soon on its way to Loaves & Fishes Food Pantry in Devens, and by the end of that Sunday afternoon, eight truckloads, or nearly 7,500 pounds of food, would be delivered to the charitable organization. Loaves & Fishes food coordinator Paul Niemira valued the donation at $12,168.
For many years now, Shirley, Ayer, Groton and Dunstable Scouts have gotten together to distribute collection bags throughout many neighborhoods in Shirley. The following week, Scouts pick up the bags, usually filled to the brim by generous Shirley citizens, and bring them back to the Lura A. White Elementary School.
There, a team of Scout leaders and children unpack, distribute, sort, and repack the items, and load them onto trucks to deliver to the food pantry. The entire operation on delivery day, from pickup to delivery and cleanup, takes little more than six hours, thanks to the many dedicated volunteers.
Nearly 7,500 pounds of food may seem like a lot, but according to Loaves & Fishes Executive Director Patricia Stern, the food pantry distributes approximately 8,000 pounds of food each week to residents of Ayer, Devens, Groton, Harvard, Littleton, and Shirley. That is nearly a half million pounds of food each year.
And the need is growing. In the past five years, there has been a 52 percent increase in client visits to the food pantry. Nearly 1,000 families visited Loaves & Fishes last year, one third of whom were new clients.
The items currently most in need at the food pantry are white tuna, canned pasta, helpers/side pastas, boxed rice, canned beets, spinach and corn, garbanzo beans (chickpeas), 100 percent fruit juice, refried beans, peanut butter, feminine care products, diapers sizes 5 and larger, and deodorant.
For information on how you can help, visit www.loavesfishespantry.org or call 978-772-4627.