North Quabbin Food-A-Thon marks 20th year

Community members and volunteers collect and sort food donations for distribution to local food pantries during the 16th annual North Quabbin Food-A-Thon. The 20th annual event will be held on Tuesday, May 21.

Community members and volunteers collect and sort food donations for distribution to local food pantries during the 16th annual North Quabbin Food-A-Thon. The 20th annual event will be held on Tuesday, May 21. STAFF FILE PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

By MAX BOWEN

Athol Daily News Editor

Published: 05-13-2024 3:43 PM

ATHOL — Residents can expect to see volunteers on the street collecting donations in pickle jars and to hear the 12-hour North Quabbin Food-A-Thon on the air to help combat a growing need.

The fundraiser and food collection drive, now in its 20th year, will be held on Tuesday, May 21, from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. and can be seen on Athol-Orange Community Television (AOTV), heard on WVAO-LP 105.9FM and streamed online at aotv13.org. In addition, volunteers with pickle jars will be on the streets to seek donations. Contributions of food or money will both be accepted.

Food-A-Thon Steering Committee member Jay Deane said that even after all these years, the demand is higher, which can be frightening at times.

“Seeing the homeless encampments, there’s so many things we can do, and a warm place and food is a basic need,” he said.

The Food-A-Thon is a 12-hour series of interviews and discussions, with Deane, his brother Don, and Dean Collins on the interview panel. Deane credited Congressman Jim McGovern as being a strong supporter of the charity, along with state Sen. Jo Comerford, D-Northampton, and state Rep. Susannah Whipps, I-Athol. During the 12 hours, people from the benefiting food pantries and the businesses that make donations will join the show.

“You get going with that, the adrenaline just pumps,” Deane said. “Like saying hello to an old friend and catching up on what is happening to their organization. It’s just great, it’s really great.”

Joe Goody is the manager of Athol’s Hannaford grocery store, which has been a supporter of the event since its inception. Goody said the store makes different donations each year, such as a cash donation of $7,500 or 1,400 pounds of food for the Food-A-Thon’s 14th year. He said an event like this fits into the company’s mission of addressing food insecurity.

“We help where we can and this fits into our strategy very well,” said Goody, who has been a part of the Steering Committee as well.

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Goody added that many of the food pantries that benefit from the Food-A-Thon have been in the store to pick up food to stock their shelves.

“I think, other than raising the needed funds, it helps raise awareness,” he said. “How a few dollars can go a long way for these food pantries and organizations.”

Deane said that when the Food-A-Thon began in 2004, he owned a radio station with his brothers in Orange. One of his friends, who was the Orange town administrator at the time, suggested they do a fundraising event and the idea for a 12-hour show was born. The Deanes worked with Rick Kwiatkowski, AOTV Executive Director Carol Courville and Amy Clark from the Franklin County Community Meals Program.

“Amy said it would be great to get a trunk of food,” Deane said. “We filled two 18-foot box trucks and raised $13,000 in 12 hours.”

When the pandemic hit, the food donations slowed down, but monetary contributions increased to between $38,000 and $50,000 annually.

“When somebody comes on [the Food-A-Thon] to talk about why they’re making a contribution because a few years ago they were in that position, they needed the help, it’s very uplifting,” Deane said.

The Food-A-Thon will benefit the Franklin County Community Meals Program, the Athol Salvation Army, Our Lady Immaculate Church Food Pantry, the Community Pantry at Athol High School, St. Vincent De Paul Food Pantry at Saint Mary’s Church and the fiscal sponsor, Wendell Good Neighbors Food Pantry. The money raised is evenly split between the six beneficiaries, Deane said.

The annual drive is staffed by more than 100 volunteers, and members of the pantries also send people to help. Area grocery stores such as Market Basket and Hannaford also make contributions.

For more information or to make a donation, visit nqfoodathon.com. Contributions can be made any time of year through PayPal and Venmo. Checks can also be made out and sent to: Wendell Good Neighbors, P.O. Box 222, Wendell, MA 01379, with “Food-A-Thon 2024” in the memo line.

Max Bowen can be reached at mbowen@recorder.com or 413-930-4074.