DEVENS – Despite gray, rainy skies, boosters of the Loaves & Fishes food pantry gathered at 234 Barnum Rd. to celebrate the grand opening of the charitable organization’s new home.
After 17 months of fund-raising to underwrite $1.4 million in renovations for the building, Loaves & Fishes board of trustees Vice Chairman Judy Grande gave credit to all those who helped make it possible.
“It’s truly been a labor of love,” she said. “It couldn’t have happened without everybody’s help.”
High on the list of those being thanked was MassDevelopment, which sold the former army base gymnasium to Loaves & Fishes for $1 – or a can of peas depending on who you ask – in December 2004.
Since then, much of the agency’s work has been fund-raising to rehabilitate the structure. The fruits of that labor were evident on May 2.
Prior to the official ribbon-cutting, trustees Chairman Lisa Martel took a few people on a quick tour.
New offices occupy much of what had been a kitchen area in the building’s former life. A dilapidated rear porch overlooking Robbins Pond has been converted to four counseling cubicles where licensed social worker Janet Stevens does lay counseling.
“In our old, dingy former building we didn’t have offices sor enough space, and we’d be stumbling all over each other,” Martel said.
“I feel good about it,” Stevens said. “People visibly relax when they come in.”
“All the furniture in the main meeting room was donated, even the couches,” Martel said. “People are comfortable while they wait.”
Her tour included a large room lined with neatly-packed food shelves. A highlight is a commercial kitchen-sized refrigerator and walk-in freezer built into the end wall.
“Everything is donated,” Martel said, “A lot of them in-kind such as the legal stuff regarding the closing on the property that was handled by attorney Christopher Lilly.”
Christopher Oldham, the vice president of J. M. Coull Inc., did the renovation work. He said a platoon of engineers had donated their time to the design.
The new digs carried another perk. The charity will soon resume taking clothing donations.
While the organization has a handful of part time employees, the back bone of its operations is volunteers, who donate approximately 15,000 hours per year to the pantry. As a result of that work, some 400 families per month are assisted.
Standing in the new building, longtime Loaves & Fishes supporter Frank Harmon reminisced about the old days. He remembered when Loaves & Fishes resided in the basement of the Federated Church of Ayer. Founded in 1983 by three friends who wanted to help the working poor, it was a small but dearly loved part of the community.
Back then, the pantry was so small that groceries were distributed in bags stocked by volunteers. In the new building, which has three pantries that are each the size of the Ayer location, there’s enough space for patrons to “shop” their way through the pantry and exit on the other side.
After seeing this, Harmon wasn’t missing the good old days.
“God was looking out for us when we got this,” he said.
As a faith-based charitable organization, Harmon was not alone in that assessment.
A similar sentiment was offered by the Rev. Phillip Goff when he blessed the building. As a longtime stalwart of Loaves & Fishes, Goff attested to times of uncertainty and anxiousness around the project, which had been seen through.
“We knew if we trusted in God there would be a way,” he said. “I am convinced the hand of God has embraced Loaves & Fishes.”
As has the burgeoning community of Devens. The pantry moved to Vicksburg Square at Devens in 1997 and resided in a temporary location on MacArthur Avenue for much of 2005 while the new home was being built.
MassDevelopment CEO Robert Culver, who cut the ribbon the on the building, offered a few words on how places like Loaves & Fishes make Devens a special place.
“This is a wonderful day for Loaves & Fishes as well as the Devens community,” he said. “I am very impressed with the level of community support. It’s a testament to the positive impact Loaves & Fishes has on the communities in this region, and I’m very pleased MassDevelopment played a role in this project.”
Nashoba Publishing staff writer Don Eriksson contributed to this article.