CHICOPEE — When Anna Maria Hamblin’s mother and then her 37-year-old son died within four months time this year, it was her co-workers at City Hall who pitched in to offer her sympathy and financial support to help pay funeral expenses.
“It is time to give back. Chicopee is a wonderful community,” said Hamblin, who is the director of the city’s retirement board.
So during this holiday season, Hamblin proposed all city employees join forces to run a major food drive to fill up the shelves of Lorraine’s Soup Kitchen and Pantry so the organization can ensure families won’t go hungry.
Typically every holiday season different departments do something to celebrate and benefit different charities. But this time all about 1,200 are all joining forces – including those who don’t work in City Hall such as the Chicopee Electric Light and the Fire department – to collect food on Thursday and Friday in front of City Hall.
The plan is to have employees and other residents fill a police rescue vehicle called a Bearcat with non-perishable food between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. over the two days. The event, held in the City Hall parking lot on Front Street, will also serve as a mini safety day with other emergency rescue vehicles and Department of Public Works parked there as well, Hamblin said.
Hamblin, who moved to Chicopee in 2012 from central Massachusetts and started working in City Hall in 2016, said she has always felt welcome in her new city. When she offered to organize the food drive, her co-workers and Mayor John L. Vieau all jumped on board.
Recently Vieau, his Chief of Staff Michael Pise, Special Projects Director Chloe Soto, Janet Olybrych, executive assistant and other volunteers cooked one of the dinners served free daily at the kitchen. Teams from churches, schools, businesses and multiple other groups volunteer regularly to help the staff provide meals for people in need.
“I noticed the shelves are a little bare. Lorraine’s can use some help,” Vieau said. “No one wants people in today’s modern world to go hungry.”
City employees selected Lorraine’s as its charity because it does so much to ensure residents’ basic needs are met.
“It isn’t just the homeless. We saw it is working families who are going to Lorraine’s for dinner to stretch their budget,” Soto said.
Lorraine’s especially needs peanut butter, soup, one-pound bags of rice and canned meats like tuna. It can also use beans, pasta and canned fruits, said Kimberly Caisse, executive director of the pantry.
Monetary donations are also welcome, especially since the pantry can purchase food at a discounted rate from the Western Massachusetts Food Bank. That also enables the kitchen to purchase fresh vegetables, meats and other perishable items.
Lorraine’s is seeing an increased need because of inflation and the rising costs of heat, electricity and gasoline and people realize their paycheck doesn’t go as far, she said.
Previously between 15 and 20 people would visit Lorraine’s daily looking for help, now that has increased to 35 to 40 a day and one day recently 48 people were looking for assistance, she said.
In addition, the pantry restarted its mobile food pantry, which it had put on hiatus because it didn’t have enough drivers. It is now it is visiting a variety of neighborhoods between 4 and 6 p.m. every week and is giving out even more groceries. The schedule can be found on the Lorraine’s website.