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Bears raid food pantry set up by Westhampton church; force it to relocate

A Westhampton church is seeking a new location for the food pantry it set up in March to help people affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, after bears recently raided the distribution site in the center of town, according to the church’s website.

A message posted to the homepage of the Westhampton Congregational United Church of Christ sheds light on the pantry’s recent setback.

“Well our Food pantry in the center of town has been operating well since early March......but alas, this week the bears decided that they had more need of the food bank than we did, so we’ve had to temporarily disband services,” the message says.

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The church says it’s hoping “to quickly open inside another public building in the center of town but no details yet." Anyone who needs food in the meantime can call the church at 413-527-4204, according to the statement.

The church directs callers to “leave a message as to your needs and we will gather the needed food items and be sure you get them. (Be sure to let us know how to get ahold of you when we have gotten the food).” In addition, message advised people not to donate any items “until we have a safe and secure place to keep them. Thanks to all who have supported this in the last seven months! Be on the watch for further details as we will reopen since there is still a real need!”

The church’s pastor, Rev. Tadd Allman-Morton, didn’t immediately return text and email messages seeking comment Tuesday afternoon.

Westhampton police Chief David White said Tuesday via email that he read about the bear raid on the pantry in the Daily Hampshire Gazette.

“The Police [Department] did not take a report" on the pantry, White wrote.

A WWLP-TV report said the pantry was destroyed by a bear last week, though the church referred to multiple bears in its statement. A reporter with the TV station on Tuesday tweeted a photo of the tiny, makeshift pantry, which had a sign on it that said in part, “Sorry we have had trouble with bears getting into our food, so we’ve had to temporarily close. We hope to open again soon!”

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As of Sept. 23, Westhampton had recorded just 10 coronavirus cases since the start of the pandemic and hadn’t seen any new cases in the prior two weeks, according to the state Department of Public Health’s weekly roundup of communities released every Wednesday.

But despite the relatively low numbers, people had been availing themselves of the church’s pantry prior to the bears' arrival.

“The Good News: The Food Share in the center of town is being used!" the church posted to Facebook in mid-April. “The Ask: Because there’s been some great use of this resource, let’s work together to build back the supply of food and supplies for our neighbors! ... Such an awesome community we have!”

Bears, meanwhile, tend to gravitate toward food sources, according to a primer posted to the state’s official mass.gov website.

“Bears spend time in neighborhoods because food sources – bird feeders, garbage, open compost, grills, etc., are abundant and easy to access,” the site says. “Bears will readily use these food sources and will revisit them time and again as long as they are available. Bears that are attracted to human-associated food sources may be more vulnerable to being hit by a car, and may lose their fear of people. Once a bear finds a food source in a neighborhood, they will revisit that same location over and over again and will also start to search for similar food sources in other areas.”

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Travis Andersen can be reached at travis.andersen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe.