The Family Pantry of Cape Cod operates out of a nondescript building in an industrial section of Harwich. It’s open three days a week, and offers a lifeline for many Cape Cod residents and families who come here to stock up on much-needed food items. Recently, frozen bluefish fillets have been added to that list.
Dennisport resident Steve Young moved slowly along the grocery line at the Family Pantry, placing items in a paper bag. He’s currently on disability, and is unable to work. His most recent job was making custom countertops.
“That was 15 years of doing that,” Young said. “And I’ve been a licensed plumber, and in the trades all my life since I was 16.”
Young said having the Family Pantry as a resource is a big help.
“Just takes off that edge, you know? When something goes wrong, you know, there’s no extra money,” said Young.
At the end of the line, a volunteer reaches into a nearby freezer and offers Young a two-pound package of frozen bluefish. The bluefish are courtesy of the “Fish for Families” program started by the Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen’s Alliance. They partner with local fishermen to supply fish for the Family Pantry at reduced prices. The effort is supported by grants from Cape Cod Healthcare, Cape and Islands United Way, and the Kelly Foundation. Nancy Civetta is Communications Director for the Fisherman’s Alliance.
“We started last year in August and we did scallops. Around the holidays last year, we did sea clams,” Civetta said. “Earlier this summer we did skate wing fillets. And then right now we’re doing bluefish.”
Civetta enlisted Orleans commercial fisherman Tom Smith to help out with the bluefish program.
“It was great to be involved with the food pantry and I’d like to do it again,” Smith said. “I think we’re gonna continue to do it going forward, and work out the logistics of it and try different species of fish and see what works best.”
On a recent trip, Smith’s boat the “Sea Wolf” caught 2,500 pounds of bluefish. The fish was processed into 1,000 pounds of fillets at the Pier Fish Company in New Bedford.
The fish was then delivered to the Family Pantry, where Mary Anderson is Executive Director. She said that people qualify for food distribution based on Federal poverty guidelines.
“I think you have to put your pride in your back pocket. That first time walking through this door, I think, is very difficult,” she said.
During nine years in her position, Anderson said the number of families seeking help each month continues to increase.
“When I was first here, the average was four-or-500 families a month, and now it’s 1,100 families a month,” Anderson noted.
Nancy Civetta hopes to expand the Fish for Families program to include other species.
We land millions of pounds in Chatham of skate wings and dogfish every year,” Civetta said. “And most of it gets exported to Asia, to Europe, to the U.K. so why not keep some of that local product local, and help out families in need right here on Cape Cod?”
The bluefish program at the Family Pantry will continue until all the frozen fillets are gone.