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SHIRLEY — Thanks to the generosity of Shirley residents, the Scouts of Shirley and other area towns collected more than seven truckloads of nonperishable food items for the Loaves & Fishes Food Pantry at Devens on Nov. 14. “Scouting for Food” is Scouting’s community stewardship project aimed at addressing the problem of hunger in the Scouts’ own community.

The annual massive food collection and delivery has been a tradition of the Shirley Scouts for the past 21 years, and each year they collect a little more than the previous year. Participating Scouts this year included Girl Scouts from Ayer, Shirley, Dunstable and Groton, the Venture Scouts of Crew 34 Shirley, Shirley Cub Scouts Pack 31, and Shirley Boy Scouts Troop 7.

Every year, the week before the food is picked up, members and families of the Shirley Cub Scouts drop off paper bags and instructions at homes all over town. The following week, Scouts and their families stop at each house, picking up the bags left for them outside, and knocking on the doors of homes at which no bag is visible.

The Scouts not only collect nonperishable food items, but they also sort them by type and box them up before loading them in pick-up trucks and delivering them to the Devens food pantry. An estimated 50 Scouts, their parents, and other volunteers crisscrossed the Lura A. White Elementary School gym from the unloading table to the tables marked for specific items, where other volunteers placed the items into boxes.

Outside of the gymnasium, John Reischutz cooked up hot dogs and served hot cocoa to the grateful Scouts, who also helped themselves to an abundance of leftover Halloween candy.

Some of the youngest Scouts took on the task of stomping on the empty paper collection bags and stuffing them into plastic trash bags. At the end of the afternoon they emptied the paper bags into the Abitibi Paper Retrieving Dumpsters on the school grounds so they could be recycled.

As each truck was completely filled with boxes of food, Shirley Boy Scout Troop 7 Committee Member David Swain yelled to Committee Chairman Joyce Reischutz, “Guess what, Joyce?!” and then announced how many truckloads that one made. Each time, the announcement led to another round of loud cheers from the hardworking crowd.

The final count was “seven-and-a-quarter” truckloads of pasta, rice, baked beans, vegetables, cranberry sauces, fruits, canned meats, soups, baking supplies, baby food, and many other items.

How It Began in Shirley

Joyce Reischutz said that Girl Scout Leader Susan Johnson first started the Shirley Scouting for Food effort in 1989.

“I was in Cub Scouts at the time,” said Reischutz, who started with Scouting when her now adult sons were small. “We just sat there and brain-stormed, because little kids can’t paint houses and can’t always pick up litter along the roadsides. That gets old and can be dangerous. We asked ourselves, what can younger kids do?

“So Boy Scouts started doing Scouting for Food, and later the Cub Scouts. The first year we got bags from the Army, and now we have gone to this bag evolution. We buy the bags and sometimes we get someone to donate the printing. This year we bought (both.) We distributed around 2,200 bags.”

After 21 years, Scout leaders and community volunteers have the collection process down to a science. Each year, despite the increased volume of donations, the collection is done more efficiently and quickly than the previous year. Reischutz said that this was the best turnout and the most food ever collected for the event.

Shirley Residents Thanked for Generosity

“I just want to say how thankful we are that the Town of Shirley is so generous,” Reischutz said, adding, “when there is a perception of need, people give more and there is less “pantry cleaning.” In other words, more people are going out to purchase items rather than just cleaning out extra items from their cabinets.

“We had very little bad stuff,” she said, noting that the food pantry still had to check for expiration dates, but that the Scouts found very few open or damaged containers.

“I got a call this morning to collect more bags,” she said the day after the food drive. “I’m on my way to go pick them up.”

The Shirley Scouting for Food event is the second largest food donation Loaves & Fishes receives all year. The largest is the national U.S. Postal Service food drive.

“Please express our deepest and heartfelt thanks to the Scouts for all their effort and hard work, and to the people of Shirley for their generosity,” said Loaves & Fishes Food Coordinator Paul Niemira, when asked to comment on the event.

“Together they made this year’s drive a huge success. It took seven-plus truckloads to deliver 327 boxes of food — approximately 7,600 pounds of food — with a value of $11,281.50.”

Niemira said that at the pantry, they had a group of 16 volunteers that put in 38 hours to inspect, date check, and sort about one-half of the delivered food.

“The other half will be checked this evening and tomorrow,” he said last Tuesday. “In total, it will take about 75 man hours, but only because the Scouts had done a preliminary sort-and-check, which cut the work on our end by 10 to 20 percent.”

More Help Needed

Niemira said that for the food pantry’s Thanksgiving distribution Monday, Nov. 22, and its holiday distribution on Dec. 20, the organization is in need of: large turkeys of 16 pounds or more, hams that are 3 pounds or larger, stuffing, gravy, broth, frozen pies/desserts, nuts and holiday snacks, ham glaze, coffee and tea.

Loaves & Fishes’ everyday needs are: diapers (size 4 and larger), cereal, boxed/flavored rice, Ramen noodles, pasta and pasta sauce, 100 percent fruit juice, canned fruit cocktail, canned pears, coffee, tea and baked beans.

Donations may be dropped off anytime at one of the drop locations (nonperishable foods only), or at the pantry Monday and Wednesday nights between 7 and 8 p.m., or Wednesday and Friday mornings between 8 a.m. and 12:30 p.m.

Drop locations in Shirley are at the Shirley Post Office, Hazen Library and Shirley Fire Department.

The pantry, at 234 Barnum Road, Devens, will be accepting donations Saturday, Nov. 20, from 8:00 a.m. to noon and from 1-3 p.m. and Sunday, Nov. 21, from 1-4 p.m.

The pantry will not be accepting donations Monday, Nov. 22, as it will be conducting its Thanksgiving distribution to clients that day.

For information on the Loaves & Fishes Dec. 11 “Shop for Your Kids Day,” contact Marie at 978-772-7510 or Joan at 978-772-4440, or visit http://devenspantry.org.