The following article, by Melissa Babcock, originally appeared in The Source.
Even in a well-to-do town like Madison, there are people who don’t have enough to eat.
Vincent Diglio, his wife, Margaret, and dozens of other volunteers at the Madison Community Services (MCS) Food Pantry are trying to take care of that.
The Diglios are New York natives and retired educators who have been running the food pantry for about eight years. They’ve helped it grow from a small closet in the Social Services Department to a larger room at the Madison Congregational Church, which they and the other volunteers kept stocked by making frequent trips
to their storage area at Milano Development & Self-Storage on Orchard Park Road, off of Mungertown Road. A few years ago, the pantry moved right next to its storage area at Milano, which has highly increased the convenience for the volunteers.
“There was too much food to transport,” Vincent explains. “I always tell people that if we give out 2,000 pounds of food a week-which we do, and more-it involves moving 2,000 pounds of food sometimes three times. So we’re talking about not-young people moving a lot of food too often. So that’s why the [Madison Community Services] president, Cheryl Campbell, got us two units at Milano. So half of it is storage and the other half is the pantry. It works out very nicely.”
The MCS Food Pantry has about 40-plus volunteers, and there are 10 supervisors.
“We have a lot of nice people giving their time to help,” Vincent says. “It’s all volunteer-nobody’s paid. Local businesses and organizations donate food and money, and we organize the holiday food baskets for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter, which feeds about 300 people in Madison. We give them a meal that they have to prepare. So at Christmas and Thanksgiving we give turkeys, and at Easter they get a ham. We get anywhere from 250 to 300 people a week visiting the pantry.”
Vincent and Margaret met while studying education at St. John’s University in Queens. They are both from New York state but retired to Madison to be close to the shore, Boston, and New York City.
The Diglios have three children-Kristin, Brian, and Matthew-and eight grandchildren. Matthew and his two children live in Guilford. Brian has three children and lives in Goshen, New York; and Kristin has three children and lives in Bedford, New Hampshire.
“We chose to give back to the community in our retirement and also spend time with our grandchildren,” Vincent says. “On Fridays we watch our grandson in Guilford while his sister goes to preschool. We also like to take the train into Manhattan to see shows. We love seeing movies at the Madison Art Cinemas and Bow Tie Cinemas in New Haven.”
The Diglios’ involvement started out small.
“When we first moved here, we got involved in the holiday baskets,” Vincent says. “We used to just deliver. Then we got involved on the board of Madison Community Services. That was when we found the room-not room; closet-in Wendy Larsen’s office. Then more and more people were coming and getting food. The demand was bigger, and we needed a bigger space. We went around and visited various pantries on the shoreline and modeled ours after the good points of each one.”
No Shame and No Judgment
Vincent describes the concept of Madison’s food pantry as “basically a store. They choose. It was extremely important to us that it was their choice of food, and we weren’t giving them prepackaged bags.”
Making those in need feel comfortable is key, Vincent says.
“It’s extremely humbling, humiliating, threatening-whichever word you want to use-to make that step into the pantry. We have a lot of Madison people who don’t come. They go to other ones. They see somebody they know who’s volunteering there, and it’s a turnoff; they’re embarrassed. They can’t do it.
“We do many things to address that. We don’t get to everybody in need, though, because there are still some people who are reluctant to ask for help. We try to make it as easy as possible,” he continues. “At times we’ve had people shop slightly before opening so there’s less contact with others. If there is somebody they know who’s a volunteer, we would try to remove that volunteer from the pantry while that person shops. Anything to make it easier and more comfortable.
“It’s tough,” he acknowledges. “One woman who came had just left her therapist crying. She didn’t have any food in her refrigerator, and the car payment or electric bill, or whatever, was due and she didn’t have any money for food. The therapist said, ‘Is there a food pantry or food bank you can go to?’
“So she came-crying-and my wife is very good with that. Margaret takes them under her wing, shows them around, makes them feel comfortable, welcome, et cetera, and then they start coming. The volunteers we have are non-judgmental. They’re there to help. They talk to the clients and do a great job. It’s what we wanted to set up. Everything has fallen into place beautifully.”
‘The People of Madison are Extremely Generous’
The Diglios made another pleasant find when they moved to Madison.
“We originally moved here to be close to the shore, Boston, and New York City,” he points out. “But what we’ve found working at the pantry and doing food baskets, is that the people of Madison-besides being nice people-are extremely generous.”
He goes on to list a few of the people and organizations who help.
“Neighbor to Neighbor is a subsidiary of Madison Foundation. They give us a big chunk of money every year to provide personal care items like laundry detergent, shampoo, conditioner, toothpaste, deodorant. Because personal care items, we can’t get, and people in need can’t get with food stamps. So that’s one organization. Then we have the realtors here in town. They do that Pitching for Charity in the summertime. They give us a big chunk of the proceeds from that.”
They even have a benefactor who pays their rent at Milano.
“Margaret and I give presentations whenever somebody wants to know about the pantry and what we do,” Vincent says. “So we were at the Exchange Club going through our spiel. Somebody in the back said, ‘What’s your wish list? Do you have a wish list?’ Margaret said, ‘I wish somebody would pay our rent so we could use that money for food.’
“The following Tuesday, the gentleman came into the pantry, looked at what we had, and said, ‘I’ll pay your rent, but you must promise me that the money you’re not using for rent you’re going to be using for food.’ So that’s what we do. Every two months we spend $2,500 at Bozzuto’s, [a wholesale distributor based in Cheshire]. They’re a supplier of Big Y, Robert’s-all of the big food chains.”
Vincent describes the shift in local attitude that took place over the past decade.
“When we first started, nobody thought that Madison needed a pantry. So we were battling that for three, four, five years,” he says. “Now I think there are more people who know about us than don’t know about us.
“We don’t need big donations. We need a lot of little donations. That’s how we operate. Schools help. Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts. Groups are great, but they can’t have food drives every month, every week. You don’t have to get involved big time. Little time. Just little steps. Maybe we’ll meet another person like the guy that’s paying our rent. He just popped out of the woodwork.”
The MCS Food Pantry is open to Madison residents every Wednesday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. For more information, visit www.madisoncommunityservices.org.
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