WESTERLY — When members of the Westerly Police Department and Dunn’s Corners Fire Department stopped at the Jonnycake Center last week, pantry manager Sarah Shaw said she knew in advance that the donations they collected during a food drive would be a big help to the more than 300 clients who requested Thanksgiving dinners.
But even Shaw, who said the community has always helped out, was not expecting the level of contributions that came when police and firefighters opened the truck doors to reveal 3,777 pounds of food to support the dinners and other pantry operations.
“Honestly, it was hard not to get emotional,” Shaw said Tuesday. “It goes to show how much this community and its residents support the center’s mission.”
For the Jonnycake Center of Westerly, it’s been a busy start to the holiday season. The agency is serving more families than ever before, but over the past month the community’s donations have amounted to about 10,000 pounds in food.
The police-fire donation came on the heels of a Boy Scout food drive in partnership with the U.S. Postal Service. That collection was equally as successful, Shaw said, producing 5,916 pounds of food since the start of November. She said the Jonnycake Center also recently received two racks of holiday and pantry foods as a reverse offering from Dunn’s Corners Community Church.
The donations meant full baskets, including turkeys, for Thanksgiving meals, and also helped to refresh the pantry’s coffers heading into the cold season, Shaw said. The influx of cereal, coffee and other products will also allow the agency to reassign food money toward more pressing needs, she said.
“It always amazes me just how much the community steps up,” she said.
Westerly Police Capt. Shawn Lacey, one of four officers who helped deliver the food on Nov. 13, along with two volunteers from Dunn’s Corners, said this year’s donations far surpassed even the success his department has had in recent years.
Westerly police have hosted an annual November food drive at Walmart for several years. Last year there was a record, at the time, of 1,800 pounds of food, but by the end of the four-hour joint collection this year, that total had more than doubled.
“It was truly great to see,” Lacey said. “It took us an hour just to unload the truck; during the collection, Walmart actually ran out of a number of foods like stuffing, mashed potatoes — the shelves were empty.”
Lacey credited the growth to the new partnership, one that came together after Dunn’s Corners Fire Department Lt. Jeffrey Thomas reached out to see whether his organization could help.
Thomas said the department has been seeking ways to give back and do more public outreach, while also enhancing the departments’ good professional partnership.
With a firetruck stationed at one entrance and police cruiser at the other, donors filled the vehicles at both ends of the store. The departments will do so again the first weekend of December as part of an annual Christmas toy drive.
“It was a success,” Thomas said. “We are hoping to do even more moving forward to bring Westerly Ambulance on board to host regular collections, whether quarterly or biannual, something that helps and not just during the holiday.”
Shaw said that with the growing number of contributions near the holidays — the agency expects to receive enough donations to be able to meet the needs of the anticipated 450 families served at Christmas — the biggest need remains filling the pantry once the holiday season has come and gone.
“When people ask me what we need around the holidays, I tell them, ‘Remember us in July,'" Shaw said.