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Life  Changes  for  All!
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by
Sandy Donovan

 
The natural disasters of this year have brought havoc to all. There isn't anyone that has not been touched by the devastation of the storms from Maine to California. Lives have been uprooted and people find themselves living in conditions they never thought possible. Prices have soared at the gas pumps limiting people's driving long distance and jobs have been lost due to the fury of hurricanes;  not only in the Gulf Coast but everywhere else as well. Prices with all the things we purchase will increase and heating costs will probably hit an all time high. We in New England have lost homes, family members, and businesses due to the flooding of many areas due to the aftermath of these storms. The economy is becoming more fragile as we continue to have more storms of which humans have no control of stopping.  Pain can never be measured by numbers lost for each individual feels the same pain whether an area is hit by outstanding numbers or  lower numbers of causalities in all areas of life.
 
The Chelmsford Community Exchange has felt this change with an increase of people needing help with food and anything else that we can help families with during this time of stress for many.  We even have a displaced family from the Gulf Coast that is living with relatives in the area. This puts a strain on the family budget that is hosting  another family, as people from the Gulf Coast are finding their assets frozen, necessary documents at times for certain jobs have been lost  and businesses closed because of the  floods. But one is thankful for loving relatives that open their arms, "please come and stay with us". People that are strangers to each other quickly become like family as numerous families have opened their hearts and homes  to many displaced families. Southern hospitality is now experiencing  the generosity of Northern hospitality. Lives will be changed forever but out of this havoc will come peace, lives will go in different directions for the better as time goes on because with every disaster comes the opportunity for all of us to unite as "One Family in God". Opportunities we never thought possible in our lives all of sudden become a reality  and a beacon of light shines where there was darkness before.  So many people an have opened there hearts to those in this most devastating time in their lives. Everyday I either read it in the newspaper or see it on TV, hear it from those that have friends that are doing things very quietly to help others The negative becomes the positive if we let it!
 
The theme for the Chelmsford Community Exchange this year for fund raising is  "Is your heart open to the needs of others"? One should never judge those who have to come to the food pantry for help as one never knows that they could be in that line themselves. I have seen this happen over and over again during the past twelve years.
 
People are being laid off from their jobs already and the stability of one's life becomes  very shaky wondering where the money to buy food and other necessities for their family seems impossible to find to survive.  Many times the two income household becomes a one income household or the one income becomes no income. People applying for help find in many cases they do not qualify for help as the poverty guidelines  are way below realistic numbers.  The federal guidelines for a family of 4 for this year is $19,350 and all programs are based on this as a level for qualifications with an increase up to 185%. This leaves many people without anywhere to turn except to a pantry.  As I have said in the past we are not a  Band-Aid but a necessity to help families  survive through an economic crunch.  It may be short term or long term. We never ask income because established guidelines do not show the "real issue of poverty" and I am not here to judge who needs help and who does not. That takes care of itself.  It is hard enough to just come for the needed help because of financial difficulties without being embarrassed to prove your need for help.
 
A family that needed our help in the past was able to send a donation to us last year but now finds themselves back in the line due to this dilemma. But even before this season of storms people have found it hard to make ends meet. This only increases need. I know we will be getting calls for heating bills, clothing for the winter, necessary prescriptions that people can not find the money needed to pay for them. 
 
Another family that just came to us whose husband is disabled and the wife just got laid off from her job and they do not qualify for any help because of the poverty guidelines. They have children, too. They have just enough income coming in to pay their mortgage. This is what suburban poverty is all about. People who fall in the cracks and one can not tell they are even having financial difficulties unless they tell you. From the outside everything seems to be ok. It is like a person that looks very healthy but has a serious illness that is causing havoc inside of them. It is the most prevalent and ignored because it is invisible.
 
With our own budget we feel the crunch, too. About 70% of our food is bought at the supermarkets. We have been blessed with the food we can purchase at Merrimack Valley Food Bank located in Lowell and the monthly allotment of free food from a program called MEFAP once a month governed by the state through the food bank.
 
There has been a slight change in our hours. We are no longer opened on Tuesday for food pick up but I always open up for emergencies and if I am working at the pantry if someone comes to the door I don't refuse to help them. This extra day gives the opportunity to do other food pantry issues that need to be taken care of and if a person needs to see me privately it gives them the opportunity to do that, too. We will re- open on Saturday, December 3 until May 27, 2006 from Noon until 2pm. The other days remain the same all year round-Wednesday 5pm-8pm (Brazilians only); Thursday 2pm-4pm (food pick up) and community drop-off from 10:30am-1:00pm/6:45pm-7:45p; Friday 6:30pm-8:00pm for food pick up.
 
Thanks to St. Mary's we are blessed with many more volunteers for the various things that need to be done at the pantry. They kept a notice in their bulletin for us all summer. Hands of many makes less work for all.  Plus we have teens working with us on Wednesday night along with other adults. We have been certainly blessed by all in the community of Chelmsford along with other communities.
 
Wal-Mart in Drum Hill gave us a grant this summer, donates other articles to us and gives us help wherever possible as they have felt this crunch, too helping people in the Gulf Coast. They had always been very generous supporting of us except for the last few years until the new manager, Alan Moses took over this summer  and things have gone back to the way they were until the past two years.
 
Ken's Foods in Marlborough continues to be generous to us with their donations of their various products.
 
Panera Bread in Drum Hill keeps us supplied with donations of bread on Wednesday and Thursday.
 
 Whole Foods in Bedford keep us supplied with breads, desserts and other food weekly.
 
Ed and Adle McCarthy owners of Kwik Kopy located in Westford have helped us with our printing needs for almost 12 years.  They have been a real blessing to us.
 
Henry and Donna Parlee continue to support us in various ways.  Donna represents us  for the Good Friday Walk for Hunger committee; they donate fresh vegetables to us along with other donations from various groups they belong to and Henry in the winter months volunteers with us at the pantry.
 
The generosity of people from all aspects of life in this community and others keeps this "Little Pantry with the Big Heart" beating without community support the heart would stop beating and many families would not have anywhere to turn  for help as we are known to be a "user friendly" pantry. We try to take care of people's special diets to the best of our ability and I will purchase the necessary foods for them if we don't have them We do not turn anyone away regardless whether  they come from Chelmsford or another community.   Fincial difficulties have no boundary lines.
 
I will be speaking at St. John the Evangelist Church, N. Chelmsford on October 29 and 30;
St. Mary Magdalene, Dracut on November 5 and 6; Marguerite D"Youville Parish on  November 12 ,13, 26 and 27 ( 2 different churches). Speaking at churches gives me the opportunity to tell people I am there for those that need help as well as fund raising.
 
T-shirts are $10 and sweatshirts are $30. Due to the generosity of House of Hats I have been able to keep our prices the same for the past 11 years.
 
For further information please call Sandy Donovan at 978 250-3818 or email me at vze2gt3p@verizon.net.
 
Again, thank you to all of you for your support and may God bless you with the same hope you give others in these trying times of
 life.

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