Harvard food pantry effort earns high praise

HARVARD – The community effort that resulted in the new Harvard Food Pantry and Senior Center received recognition in Springfield on Thursday.

The building completed in late 2011 won the Governor’s Hometown Award in the service and mentorship category for cities of 5,001 to 10,000 population.

Community members raised about $200,000 and donated labor and materials that equaled another $200,000, Mayor Jay Nolan said.

Linda Lindstrom, interim site director of the food pantry, said the project brought together the community as she had never seen before. “Everybody in the town volunteered time and money,” she said. “Those that weren’t handy or didn’t have time to build donated funds or materials.”

Started in 1983, the Governor’s Hometown Awards program honors community volunteer efforts in six categories and in six population divisions.

Schools and churches got in on the fundraising in Harvard, a town of about 9,400 people. School District 50 raised more than $27,000.

One anonymous supporter donated $50,000 to get the project rolling, and from there, the construction was collaborative.

Students in a high school advanced building trades class worked during the week. Volunteers came from all over town on weekends, Lindstrom said, “until the building was all under roof – and then it was pretty much the tradesmen that volunteered their time.”

Harvard businesses donated necessities such as plumbing and electric. In October 2011, the food pantry and senior center officially moved from its former home on Ayer Street to the new one at 6817 Harvard Hills Road.

“It makes you proud to be affiliated with this type of community when that happens,” Nolan said. “This hometown award is pretty cool. ... The citizens of Harvard should feel good because it was them that put this together.”

The building has allowed the pantry to meet increasing needs, and besides more people, Lindstrom said she is seeing increasingly younger people at the food pantry.

“The other day, we had 168 families come in,” she said. “We could have never handled 70 when we were on Ayer Street.”