Medway Food Pantries Adapt to Challenge of Covid-19

J.D. O’Gara
Local Photographer Tim Rice Raises $25K for Pantries with Porch Portraits
This photo by Tim Rice, was one of a Covid-19-era porch portrait endeavor that yielded $25,000 and 1,000 pounds of food for the two Medway food pantries (this includes a $5k donation from Medway Cable Access). From left to right, Fred Hopke, Martin Dietrich, Liam Dietrich, Aidan Dietrich, Susan Dietrich.
Issue Date: 
May, 2020
Article Body: 

Business is up for the Medway Food Pantries on Village Street and at Mahan Circle. Both Paul Galante, Director of the Mahan Circle pantry, and Susan Dietrich, Director of the Medway Village Pantry, report seeing about 50% more clients per week than usual in early April.
Both have had to change their methods of operation due to Covid-19.
“Come March, with this virus, the director of the Medway Housing Authority told me I could not have anybody else come in here,” says Galante. He continues to operate with two other volunteers who also live at Mahan Circle. “We’ve become a bag food pantry and changed the hours a little bit, Tuesday and Thursday, now open 8 a.m. – 11 a.m.,” says Galante. With use of a storage box donated by an anonymous donor, the Mahan Circle pantry continues to feed needy neighbors who drive in and is working with the Medway Housing Authority in delivering pre-packed bags from the food pantry to Medway Housing residents in need who don’t have transportation or are at risk going out.
Monetary donations allow the pantry to have buying power with the Greater Boston Food Bank, but lately, Galante says he’s had trouble getting some items. “That’s why gift cards come in handy for Shaw’s,” says Galante. “Susan (Dietrich, Director of the Medway Village Food Pantry)—she wasn’t able to get any eggs, so she had to go buy them, and because of the virus, they’re up to $2.49. Every day, there’s something, because of this virus. We have to ad lib a lot. We have to learn not to just walk down the straight line. We have to take a left and a right to get through it.”
That said, while the Mahan Circle food pantry is still accepting non-perishable donations in its outside bins, which Galante checks and sanitizes items himself while wearing masks and gloves, the Medway Village Food Pantry is accepting only monetary donations for now.
“Since we have very limited volunteer staff to minimize Covid-19 risk, there are few of us to sort any donations that come in, and the bigger issue is I don’t know where the donations have been sitting or what they’re exposed to – I have to bring them in and leave them for three days before I can touch them,” says Dietrich. “If I get sick, I’ll have to close the food pantry for two weeks. I’m trying to be extra cautious.” Instead of the pantry’s usual 15 volunteers, its current volunteers consist of her immediate family and Fred Hopke.
The Medway Village Church Food Pantry is also operating on a drive-up basis on Saturday mornings, from 8:30-10 a.m. Two volunteers outside greet clients, take a checklist, and place orders in car trunks, and two volunteers inside (she and her son) pack the orders.
“The only drawback is if cars pile up, but everyone has been very patient with us,” says Dietrich, who feels offering clients choice, not only eliminates waste, but also “preserves the dignity of the process for people who come to the food pantry.”
In addition to a wealth of local partnerships, both Dietrich and Galante are thrilled with the efforts of Medway photographer Tim Rice. Rice adopted the idea from a Norwood effort, volunteering his time to drive around Medway and snap family portraits, and at first, he did it for food donations to the pantry, and later, for monetary donations to the pantries. After taking photos of 570 families, meeting 2,500 people from a distance of 10 feet or more, Rice yielded over 1,000 pounds of food and $25,000 (including a $5,000 donation from Medway Cable) for the two Medway food pantries.
“It’s amazing,” says Dietrich. “I have been blown away. People have been reaching out to me, and it’s unbelievable the way the community is coming together to support one another during this crisis. It never ceases to amaze me how wonderful the people in this town are.”
“March 22 was the first round I did,” says Rice, who did the porch portraits as part of his ongoing “We are Medway” project. Rice says that normally, nights and weekends, he’d be taking photos of people in springtime town event. The porch portraits, “keeps me in front of them, and I love the town.”
Dietrich encourages town members who are struggling to visit the pantry.
“If you need a hand to get yourself where you need to be, then please take our outstretched hand,” she says. “Make payments on things that are most critical, and if you need to come see me for groceries, come see me every week. I love to see your face.”
The Medway food pantries are open to everyone who lives in the state of Massachusetts.