The tears started flowing as 30 years of memories came rushing back.
After running the Billerica Food Pantry for nearly three decades, Marie O’Rourke and Ken Buffum were handing over the pantry paperwork to new leaders.
“It’s been a pleasure to help all these people over the years,” O’Rourke said last week. “We’ve seen people meet each other through this. We’ve seen people become friends.
“We’re going to really miss it,” she added. “It was wonderful knowing we made it possible no one went to bed hungry.”
While they’re going to miss it, a new group is working to carry on their legacy of care and compassion in the community.
Organizers of the Billerica Community Pantry Inc. received the pantry paperwork from O’Rourke and Buffum. The group is a charitable organization formed by the Billerica Interfaith Association in response to the pantry need in town.
Late last year, O’Rourke and Buffum were forced to leave their pantry space on Rangeway Road. Unable to find a new home for the Billerica Food Pantry, they were contacted by religious leaders in town.
“When we heard they no longer had a space and couldn’t find a location, the Interfaith Association came together to work on this,” said Katherine Adams, reverend at Billerica’s First Congregational Church and president of the Interfaith Association.
“We want to make sure no one is hungry in Billerica,” she added. “It’s all about helping out our neighbors.”
The pantry will provide food for those individuals and families who are in need. They’re preparing to distribute food to about 150 families.
Due to current space limitations, the pantry will operate a “just in time” model at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on Concord Road.
Food will come in one day from the Greater Boston Food Bank, and will be given out the next, according to Adams. This will require developing efficient schedules with vendors, volunteers and clients, she said.
“We’re really excited to see everyone working together,” Adams said.
The group will have minimal storage at Anjuman e-Ezzi, a mosque on Rangeway Road.
“It’s great to continue this tradition,” said Taher Esmail, a member of the mosque who’s the vice president of the pantry’s board of directors.
Late last year, the Billerica Food Pantry was forced to move out of 159 Rangeway Road, which they had called home for 18 months.
The food pantry had been paying Lynnway Auto Auction $1 a year for the 2,200-square-foot space. But then a company moved into the space, leaving the pantry without a home.
In 2016, they had to move out of the old Ditson School on Boston Road in the Pinehurst neighborhood. The sheriff’s office had announced it would leave the building and relocate to the former Murdoch Middle Public Charter School on Brick Kiln Road in Chelmsford.
Lynnway officials learned about the pantry’s need and were happy to help. Lynnway had recently expanded by about 80,000 square feet, and decided to give up 2,200 square feet to the pantry.
“Had we found a new place, we’d still be doing a pantry,” O’Rourke said last week.
She and Buffum provided the Interfaith Association with names and addresses — clients who they should target with their brochure. They also turned over their remaining funds for the pantry.
“Once this gets rolling, I think they’ll do OK,” O’Rourke said. “I wish them well.”
Distributions will begin monthly and then increase to twice-a-month in September. The hours will be from 10 a.m. to noon, and from 5 to 7 p.m. on the following Tuesdays: May 22, June 26, July 24, Aug. 28, Sept. 11, Sept. 25, Oct. 9, Oct. 23, Nov. 13, Nov. 27, Dec. 4 and Dec. 18.
The “just in time” pantry model is labor-intensive. Volunteers will be needed on Mondays to unload the truck and set up; and on Tuesdays to distribute food in the morning and evening, breakdown and clean up. To volunteer, call 978-663-8433 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
If you are a Billerica resident who would like to utilize the new pantry, call 978-663-8433. Organizers can collect any necessary information over the phone.
Businesses or individuals who would like to donate should also contact the pantry via the above email and/or phone number.