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Quincy-based service agency keeps its promises in a time of need

Program coordinator Emily Ryan takes calls about Interfaith's Help for the Holidays program. The agency is seeking sponsors to provide holiday gifts for 700 children this season.
Program coordinator Emily Ryan takes calls about Interfaith's Help for the Holidays program. The agency is seeking sponsors to provide holiday gifts for 700 children this season.Interfaith Social Services

People line up each morning outside a low building with a green roof on Adams Street in Quincy Center, seeking help from the Interfaith Social Services food pantry. They’re joined by a line of cars going down the block and around the corner.

Now serving 90 households per day, the food pantry faces longer lines than those present back in the spring when the first coronavirus restrictions went into effect. Since then people have lost their federal supplement payment, they may have exhausted unemployment benefits or found them hard to get, and some face losing their homes, said Rick Doane, executive director of Interfaith Social Services.

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“On the last two days we have served more people than at any time in the history of our organization ever,” Doane said earlier this month.

The long lines of people in need, many of them new clients for the nonprofit agency, mark a continuation of an upward trend. In the month of October, the agency served 2,500 people through its food bank and other services. In previous years the monthly average was under 1,000. The food pantry is currently serving about 90 households per day.

So many new clients have been arriving during the typically busy pre-Thanksgiving period that the agency instituted a week-long freeze on new clients.

“We give people some emergency food to hold them over and tell them to come back” after Thanksgiving, Doane said, because his small staff is too busy to sign them up.

“This time of year there’s always a big outpouring,” he said. But this year the “numbers game” is higher than ever.

In anticipation of Thanksgiving this year, 1,400 households were scheduled to receive meal packages, up from 900 households last year.

That upward trend includes the return of clients who have not used the agency’s services in five years or more. These clients had reached a place where they didn’t need the food pantry any longer, Doane said.

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“But this pandemic has leveled them and caused them to reach out,” he said.

Flesh and blood indications of the pandemic’s impact on the economy show up at the agency’s food pantry. When a Boston hotel recently laid off workers, Doane said, a car with four people who had all worked there joined the lineup for his food pantry. The car behind it had two more furloughed workers who worked the same shift.

In addition to its food pantry, Interfaith Social Services offers HomeSafe, a homelessness prevention program, and a counseling center for people with a range of mental health diagnoses.

“We see people facing evictions,” Doane said. The number has doubled from last month to this month.

Founded back in 1947, the agency provides services for the regional communities of Braintree, Cohasset, Hingham, Holbrook, Hull, Milton, Quincy, Randolph, Scituate, and Weymouth.

Numbers help tell the story of the services’ impact. In the fiscal year that ended on June 30, the agency’s food pantry served 800 new clients, and its volunteers distributed 940,000 pounds of food (plus 63,000 diapers). The HomeSafe program counseled 260 households and helped 255 children to avoid homelessness. Local residents also attended 1,600 counseling sessions. And 771 volunteers contributed more than 16,000 hours.

The agency operates with a small staff composed mostly of part-timers, plus a lot of volunteer help. The therapists in its counseling center are now practicing “telemedicine,” Doane said.

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In addition to more demands on its food pantry, Interfaith Social Services is gearing up to ensure that 700 children will receive gifts for Christmas. Last year its “Joy for Children” program provided some 4,000 gifts to more than 600 children. The organization supplies volunteer donors with a name, age, and gift suggestions for the recipient of their generosity. The donor buys the gifts, wraps them, and brings them to the Quincy office for distribution.

“Thanks to our generous donors, we’re also able to provide a bit of holiday magic for the children as well,” Doane said. While his agency is seeing more people needing its services, it’s also seeing more people making contributions or increasing their contributions to help meet the need.

“We get to see the best of our society every day,” Doane said. “We’re spending more to keep our shelves stocked. And it’s incredible to see people willing to help their neighbors in need.”

Interfaith Social Services’ big annual fund-raiser, this year called the “Feed the Hungry Gala at Home,” will take place on Friday, Dec. 4. Typically the gala raises from a fourth to a third of the service’s annual funding. Normally held at a regional dining venue, its online version asks participants to choose either a $75 premium ticket that gives them a chance to win a prize in the evening’s games of chance, or $50 to enjoy the program without participating in the games. You can buy tickets at the agency’s website, www.interfaithsocialservices.org.

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“This year’s event has moved to a virtual format on Zoom but will retain the festive atmosphere that supporters have come to love,” the agency’s Jennifer Sammons said by e-mail.

Last year the event raised $315,000. So far this year it has already raised $200,000, Doane said. “We’re grateful for our sponsors who are sticking with us,” he said.

The fund-raiser will feature music by the Old Oaken Bucket Band, a classic folk-rock band; a demonstration of cocktail-making by Spiritfruit Beverages of Rockland; and wine-paring advice from Bin Ends of Braintree.

Robert Knox can be contacted at rc.knox2@gmail.com.