HOLDEN, Mass. — The Wachusett Food Pantry is running out of time and options in its search for a new home, raising concerns that hundreds of area families could go hungry if the vital community resource has to shut down.
"So many people do rely on this food pantry, and it provides a phenomenal service that many people don't even realize is going on," said State Rep. Kimberly Ferguson (R-Holden). "If we ever lost the food pantry, which I certainly don't want to happen, it'd be a huge void in our area."
In June 2013, the pantry will have to leave the temporary home Oriol Health Care made for it at the former Holden Hospital building, and so far no one else has stepped up to offer suitable facilities for the operation.
In hopes of finding some solution to the impending problem, the pantry's dedicated volunteers met with Ferguson and Selectman Anthony Renzoni at a public brainstorming session Saturday morning.
With the clock ticking, pantry volunteers have been approaching local churches, businesses, property owners and town officials for help, and are exhausting all options, according to food pantry President Karen Halley.
Moving into municipal buildings such as the former Holden Police Station has been explored, but Renzoni said taking the building off the market and fixing it would require about $1 million in renovations
"Not only would we not get the $700,000 we promised the townspeople, but then we'd spend a million more of their dollars renovating it," he said.
Pantry volunteer Gene Stirchak said the number of people in need is growing. In 2012, the food pantry provided emergency food to more than 314 individual families, about 861 people, through 1,821 visits.
While the space at the pantry's current facility is about 3,000 square feet, its prior home at First Baptist was only about 1,000 square feet, and Stirchak says the organization is flexible.
"We've got the equipment, and we've got the mindset of people who want to be able to adapt," said Stirchak. "If we have to do multiple distributions during the month, we'll do multiple."
Holden's acting Town Manager Jacquie Kelly is looking for options, and another meeting is planned after Christmas, but, as June nears, the need for someone to help will become more critical.
"We really need one of these citizens that is committed and cares to step up and say 'I have a piece of property, a backroom, or something,'" said Renzoni.