Community of Volunteers Helps Keep Hunger at Bay

Good News Notes:

At 5 a.m. Saturday Joe Capobianco pulls up to the Good Shepherd Parish in Oak Bluffs, heads to the side entrance and checks out the food storage locker. It’s still dark and a bulb is out on one of the outdoor lights but he can find his way even in the predawn darkness. It’s a drill Mr. Capobianco has been doing for the last two years since the pandemic began, getting ready to distribute food for the hungry on the first and third Saturdays of each month.

Pickup begins at 10 a.m. He has five hours to organize and pack 120 boxes filled with fruit, vegetables, bread, eggs, meat, yogurt — a full assortment of foodstuffs that changes every week depending on what the Greater Boston Food Bank has in stock.

But he won’t be alone.

Just before 6 a.m. his assistant Janay Dlabaj arrives, Joe’s ace lieutenant for the morning muster. Janay’s husband is a Coast Guardsman and they moved to the Island two years ago. She started attending services at the Catholic church and then heard there was a part time job available helping with the food distribution. She is good with a clipboard and can stand in the middle of a swirl of activity and be a beacon of calm, a military mom with a four-year-old and two-year-old at home and her teenage daughter volunteering beside her.

“Mom is in charge of telling everyone what to do,” says Jessie Dlabaj, a senior at the regional high school.

Around 8 a.m. a line of cars begins to form even though the distribution won’t begin until 10. The cars line up a block away, in the Oak Bluffs cemetery, across from the library. As the clock ticks the line keeps getting longer, stretching down the cemetery road, bisecting rows of headstones.

At 8:30 a.m. volunteers begin to trickle in — retirees, high school students, husband and wife teams, mother and daughter teams, regulars and newcomers. By 9 a.m. they are over 20 strong, filling boxes with food, breaking down empty boxes, all moving about with precision. Each box has to be packed in exactly the same way to make sure it can fit a maximum amount of food.

“It’s like Jenga,” says Janay. “You have to put everything in the right way or the box won’t close.”

David Wilson, a retired English teacher at the regional high school, is on peppers at the moment.

“There’s a sequence to everything,” he says. “I’m a foot soldier, doing what I’m instructed to do. Right now I’m the pepper guy.”

August “just like the month” Layson works beside David going down the line. “I’m the tomato guy,” he says.

There are apple women, pineapple men, yogurt kids, the list goes one.

Sue Clements is the box break-down specialist, flattening the cardboard as soon as a food bank box has been emptied and transferred to a pick-up box.

“I like to see the mountain and make it move,” she says of box detail.

Devon Webster helps out breaking down boxes. She is leaving the Island soon, moving off to the next chapter of her life but wanted to pitch in before she heads out.

“Hardship comes from anywhere, illness comes from anywhere,” she says, referring to the folks lining up who at any time could be anyone, she says. There is no stigma here.

Her mother Candy Webster is also helping out, sorting bread and eggs.

“My brother died just before Halloween and my mom died in May,” she says. “It’s been a bad year for my family and I was struggling and decided I needed to find a way to contribute and so here we are.”

Kris Kiehn is also on bread at the moment. It’s her second time volunteering. “I would see the line when I went to the library and saw the need and wanted to help out,” she says.

Melissa and Adam Moore arrive. Like many volunteers they started coming when the pandemic began and food insecurity issues started to skyrocket on the Island.

“We are the frozen team,” Melissa says, sorting frozen chickens and sausage, mashed potatoes and tortellini.

It’s 9:30 a.m. now, just 30 minutes to go. Outside it has started to rain. A crew quickly puts up another tent to cover the food. The crew is family and that’s not a metaphor. Joe’s wife Joyce, two sons Anthony and Nick, and daughter Rose, are all here now, jumping in wherever needed. For Anthony the term is literal as he climbs into the recycling dumpster and jumps up and down on the spent cardboard, creating more room.

Joyce and Nick help arrange full boxes of food into rows….”

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