The Weymouth Food Pantry is looking for a new home after learning that its longtime location — Immaculate Conception parish’s former school in East Weymouth — will be put up for sale.
“It’s really kind of a daunting thing facing us because we’ve always been here,” said pantry spokeswoman Gael Sullivan. The pantry, which helps about 11,000 needy Weymouth residents annually, opened at the church-owned property in 1987.
“It’s a huge dilemma for the pantry, and for the whole community,” said Mike Gallagher, director of administrative services for the town of Weymouth. He’s been searching for space for the facility in town-owned buildings, but to no avail.
“We’d love to be able to help them out,” Gallagher said. “It’s such a great asset to the town, and I’m well aware of their plight. My wife volunteers there a couple of days a week.”
Town officials met to “see if there is anywhere we can squeeze [the pantry] in, and, unfortunately, nothing is available,” Gallagher said. “We are bulging at the seams” in many buildings, he said.
The only empty building is the town’s former alternative high school, which Gallagher estimated would need at least $200,000 to $300,000 of work to make it habitable. ”It’s empty for a reason,” he said.
Sullivan said there is no deadline for the pantry to move out, but the hope is to relocate before its busiest season around the winter holidays.
“We don’t want to get caught and find out the building has been sold and we have to get out,” she said.
A spokesman for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston said the old school is not yet on the market.
“The parish is doing a review of their buildings to determine the best uses of their property,” said Terrence Donilon, who is in charge of communications and public affairs for the archdiocese. “That’s a parish-level decision.”
The review of “the appropriate use of the properties of each parish,” however, was mandated by the archdiocese as part of its reorganization plan announced in January.
The plan consolidated 288 parishes into 135 “collaboratives.” In Weymouth, St. Jerome parish paired with Immaculate Conception. They now share a pastor and lay councils, while retaining their financial assets and obligations.
One of those assets is Immaculate Conception’s red brick school building on the corner of Commercial and Madison streets. The parish closed the school in 1973, after 45 years of operation.
According to a church history, the parish received permission in 1923 to build the school for $65,000. Construction went slowly, though, and the first classes were held in 1925 in a converted carriage room of the rectory stable. It wasn’t until September of 1928 that doors opened on the school building.
But by 1972, declining enrollment and policy changes at the archdiocese led to elimination of the seventh and eighth grades; the entire school closed the following year.
Immaculate Conception — whose church is located farther down Commercial Street in a circular tent-like building that was consecrated in 1967 — was using the school property for religious instruction when the food pantry moved into a portion of the building in April 1987.
The parish gradually moved out and the pantry took over much of the building, Sullivan said. It currently occupies about 5,000 square feet of space, she said.
The pantry paid no rent for the first 22 years in the building, Sullivan said. Since then, the pantry has paid enough to cover the utilities, she said: “With our freezers and refrigerators, we use a lot of electricity.”
Sullivan said the pantry had no hard feelings toward the parish. “The parish has been wonderful to us, but situations change, so we have to relocate,” she said.
She said pantry officials would like to find a comparable space, preferably near a bus stop and with about 50 parking spaces for volunteers, staff, and clients.
“We want to be as centrally located as possible, but we’d look at most anything,” she said.
The pantry is open Tuesday and Thursday mornings and in the evening once a month; volunteers also deliver supplemental food and household supplies to the homebound. Among those receiving help are people with disabilities, the working poor, and elderly people on fixed incomes.
Sullivan said the pantry is interested in renting space, or having it donated, but is not in the position to buy. She asked anyone with any suggestions for a potential location to call the pantry at 781-331-7682.