Shrewsbury volunteer continues family legacy as food pantry coordinator

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By Lori Berkey, Contributing Writer

Shrewsbury – Back in the mid-1990s, Shrewsbury resident Maria Kassos took to heart the values instilled by her parents by signing up to volunteer at St. Spyridon Greek Orthodox Cathedral’s food pantry in Worcester. Her father was a key player in the food pantry in its early years and his example inspired her help there, too. When her father became ill in 2013, she took over his responsibility of coordinating with the Worcester County Food Bank and organizing volunteer schedules. She has sustained a leadership role with the pantry ever since.

Kassos passed her father’s example along to her own children and began bringing them as toddlers to help at the food pantry.

“I am honored to carry on the tradition,” she said. “Today, the volunteer base includes three generations of my family, including my mom, my sister, and our children.”

Although Kassos takes on the bulk of the oversight, she said she would be lost without the support of her family members and other helpers.

“When I am in a bind and need someone to open up the pantry or cover for me, I can always depend on my family or one of our dedicated volunteers to back me up,” she said.

According to Kassos, since its early days, the food pantry’s goal was to bridge unmet hunger issues, addressing a temporary need or a crisis situation until more permanent services could be obtained. The pantry continues to provide the 48-hour emergency supply of groceries that has been their standard offering from day one.

Currently, outside of her work as a full-time pharmacist and busy family life, Kassos manages the pantry and the monthly food distribution, keeping in close communication with volunteer leaders at their sister churches and Worcester County Food Bank. She also organizes additional programs, including an annual turkey drive, winter coat drive and breakfast with Santa.

Between July 2018 and June 2019, the pantry fed 1,410 households representing 4,137 people, Kassos noted. The organization recently embarked on a new partnership with the Worcester Housing Authority to provide food supplies to families unable to visit the pantry in person.

“It is exciting to see our role within the Orthodox Food Pantry expanding,” she said. “Hunger is real and a growing problem in Worcester County. As an organization, I believe we are doing our part to fight hunger. By volunteering, I have realized how vital our mission truly is to serving the needs of Worcester’s hungry.”

She is pleased the pantry is able to be a vital support while people are struggling to obtain a more stable food supply for themselves and their families.

“Many of the families we support are immigrants and knowing that we can help them get on their feet makes me realize how important our work is,” she said. “Likewise, when a client who recently lost his job tells us how grateful he is for our support, I know I have done my job.”

The Food Pantry is located at St. Spyridon Cathedral, 102 Russell St., in Worcester. Non-perishable donations are accepted and may be dropped off at St. Spyridon Cathedral. For more information about obtaining food or to volunteer, contact Saint Spyridon Cathedral at 508-791-7326.