SALEM — St. Joseph's Food Pantry, one of the largest free food distribution programs on the North Shore, is moving out of a Catholic church in the heart of the downtown and into an old manufacturing building across the North River.
The move will sever the pantry's last symbolic tie with the Catholic Church and locate it about a mile from the low-income parish neighborhood where it began.
Veann Campbell, the volunteer director of a program that serves about 2,000 individuals a month, said she has signed a lease at 13 Franklin St. and hopes to open there in a few weeks. In the interim, she said the pantry will continue to operate out of the basement of Immaculate Conception Church on Hawthorne Boulevard.
Campbell praised the Rev. Timothy Murphy, pastor of Immaculate Conception, for allowing the pantry to stay there rent-free the past six years but said it is time to move.
"They've been very kind to us," she said. "We just really outgrew the space, and they have future plans of doing some renovations."
Immaculate Conception has no immediate plans, Murphy said, but may need the church basement if it sells the former parochial school next door, a building that currently houses church offices and is used for religious education classes and functions. The Hawthorne Boulevard building is also the home of the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Salem.
"We're seriously considering selling the school (building)," Murphy said. "We don't have any money to repair it." He estimated repairs at $1 million. "If we lose that, we would have to use the downstairs of the church, but there is nothing imminent."
Also aware of the church's situation, the Boys & Girls Club recently formed a committee to look at its options.
I have lived long enough to sit on both sides of the table as far as food banks and feeding the hungry. This story struck some interesting and sad cords to me. Excitement over a bigger food bank: I would be more excited to see a smaller food bank which would to me mean that less people are in need and still had a place to work and take care of their own families. Excitement over a new lease: A lease was signed and this food bank will be soon leaving the church. With the move comes the knowledge that the church is in financial difficulty and while not charging for the space could have used the money for sure. Excitement over the new location: This new location is an old manufacturing building that has been empty and for lease for years. It is always sad to see industry leave, especially in a building that for many years was a customer. I wish the food bank luck in their new building with larger space and a loading dock. I can only hope that the now empty buildings, once producing goods and materials, will not be left vacant only to be used to help feed those that used to work in them.