PEPPERELL — For more than 20 years, Pepperell’s Council on Aging has been managing a food bank for residents in need.
Joan Ux, coordinator of the Pepperell food pantry, estimates that about 3,000 pounds of food are distributed each month to local families by 20 to 30 volunteers.
Ux said she’s noticed an unusual rise in the number of young families who need assistance in Pepperell.
“This is a beautiful, quiet little country town, but that does not make us immune to people without food, homes and heat,” she said.
Sharon Mercurio, director of the Pepperell Council on Aging, shares a similar sentiment.
“Working with the seniors is a very rewarding experience, but through daily interactions, I can’t help but realize that there is so much more needed in our town,” said Mercurio.
In fact, Mercurio will sometimes accompany Pepperell’s public health nurse, Ellen Castellano, to situations where unusual hardship, abuse or a health crises warrant outside help.
“Most of the time, I will get called by someone asking for assistance,” explained Castellano. “But there are cases when a situation is brought to my attention and we decide to check it out. Fortunately, we have the support of our police and fire departments when necessary.”
According to Mercurio, her involvement coupled with that of others, revealed that the community could benefit from additional services. The collaboration resulted in Pepperell Aid from Community to Home Outreach, better known as PACH Outreach. The nonprofit organization was started in February 2007, incorporated in November of that year, and has about 20 active volunteers spearheading its efforts. The current Board of Directors includes Marcia Zaniboni, president; Sharon Mercurio, treasurer; Ellen Castellano, clerk; the Rev. Paul Ring, director; and Alice Peck, director.
The PACH Outreach mission states, “Committed to providing food, personal care items, resources, referrals, fuel assistance and temporary services to Pepperell residences.”
Mercurio said the team is modeling efforts after a similar success story — Loaves & Fishes serves the people of Ayer, Devens, Groton, Harvard, Littleton and Shirley,” said Mercurio. Both organizations promote the importance of being self-sufficient, she said, and she’s happy to see so many donations from those who once accepted food from the pantry.
“With a little support, people can turn things around … we see it happen and that’s why we are all so committed to such a great cause,” she said.
Unlike Loaves & Fishes, which is housed in a new reconstructed building in Devens, PACH Outreach lacks a permanent location. The organization needs at least 700-square-feet in a climate-controlled building with running water. These specifications are the basic needs; the group anticipates that they can get volunteers to do necessary plumbing and finish work to complete the area.
Another key goal is to create the cash flow to support operational costs. Volunteers, nonperishable foods and personal care items are always needed. Once settled in a centralized location, the group plans to formerly roll out expanded services to accommodate the community.
To raise awareness and help further fund-raising efforts, PACH outreach will hold an Informational Night at the Pepperell Community Center on Wednesday, April 16 from 5 to 7 p.m. Speakers will include Marcia Zaniboni, the Rev. Paul Ring and a representative from Loaves & Fishes. Everyone is welcome.
For more information, to donate or to volunteer, call (978) 433-0425.