As Lori Peters of Goshen packed a plastic bag with apples at The Food Bank in Hatfield on a recent Tuesday evening, she kept an eye on her son, Eldon, 7, and daughter, Desi, 3, who were filling their own bags next to her. Across the table, her husband, Joe, cradled son, Simon, not quite 1, in his left arm while holding his apple bag in his right hand.
“We have been looking for an opportunity to volunteer as a family,” Peters said as she worked. “I want my children to be less self-centered.”
The task was to sort through boxes of fruit to find non-bruised apples and fill each plastic bag with nine. The bags were then sealed tight with a tape dispenser and placed in other cardboard boxes, which were piled onto a wooden pallet in the center of the room.
“This is a great opportunity for kids,” said Alissa Shea of Northfield as she monitored the apple-packing efforts of her sons, Liam, 7, and Aidan, 6. “It helps them become activists in their community.”
The Peterses and the Sheas were among about 30 others who had come to the headquarters of the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts on North Hatfield Road that evening as part of its Family Volunteer Day program. Volunteer days, held monthly through the fall, are organized by both The Food Bank and Hilltown Families, an online network for families in Western Massachusetts to promote activities, camaraderie and community involvement.
In the warm months volunteer sessions are also held at The Food Bank Farm in Hadley.
They’re “a great way for families to work side by side while supporting their neighbors in need of food assistance,” said Megan Pete, director of development at The Food Bank. During a typical volunteer session, the families are given a tour of the facility, participate in a game and then sort food — generally fresh produce — that will be distributed throughout Berkshire, Franklin, Hampden and Hampshire counties. More than 200,000 people count on The Food Bank’s offerings, she said.
“The kids want to keep coming because they realize that it’s fun,” said Laura Bezio of Erving, who was there with the students from the religious education class she teaches through Our Lady of Peace in Turners Falls. Last summer children from her class — who are mostly from Turners Falls, Millers Falls and Erving — pitched in at The Food Bank three times. “It’s important for them to see the bigger community,” Bezio said.
“I like knowing it all goes to a good cause,” added Bezio’s 11-year-old daughter, Catherine.