By Julie McCay Turner
Peter Grey was among a group of residents who gathered informally to consider a food pantry for Bedford in 1991. After considerable conversation about whether a food pantry would be successful and useful to the town, Grey said, “We’ll never know unless we try.”
Now, nearly 25 years later, the Bedford Community Table and Food Pantry is a 501(c)3 organization, offering year-round support to scores of individuals and families. And Peter Grey is Bedford’s 2015 Citizen of the Year.
A thick sheaf of nomination letters praise Grey’s enthusiasm and energy, and his contributions to the town as an active voice in town government, attending Town Meeting and serving on multiple town boards and committees since Peter and his wife Kathy moved to Bedford in 1973.
An independent, ebullient and indefatigable nature has helped Grey take life’s challenges in stride. Loss of sight in his left eye during a basketball game when he was 12 was complicated in 1974 when he lost his sight entirely, at age 35. Thanks to support and training through the Carroll Center for the Blind in Newton, Grey says, “I may say I have a handicap, but I’ll never say I’m disabled.”
One of his great joys is participating in the elementary schools’ Celebrating Differences program begun a dozen or so years ago by Caroline Larson. Grey visits classrooms, often sitting on the floor among the youngest students, and his face glows as he describes his delight in thode conversations.
A deep belief in community motivates Grey. “My philosophy may be corn,” he says, “but I learned from my father that you get out of a community what you put into it.” The Myra Kraft Foundation couldn’t agree more, and named Grey one of their 2014 Community MVPs. Click here to read about Grey’s award.
Community service and that tradition of giving back to the community became a third-generation endeavor in the Grey family after their daughter Holly’s diagnosis of Stage-3 breast cancer several years ago. Now Holly, her wife Ellen and sister Hannah Grey ride as a team in the Pan Mass Challenge from Sturbridge to Provincetown; and the Grey’s son Ethan ran the Boston Marathon with a team that raises funds for Dana Farber Cancer Institute.
After an initial foray into public service on the Fair Housing Committee during the 1970s, Greyserved as a member of the Publications Committee,the Bedford Housing Authority, Capital Expenditures, the Selectmen’s Ad Hoc Blake Block Study, and their Ad Hoc Waste Study. Grey was a member and chairman of Bedford’s Public Ceremonies Committee, and chaired the Town Clerk’s Record Study, Bedford Local Transit, Bedford Santa Program, and the Stewardship Committee at First Church of Christ.
The Bedford Pantry, a Year-Round Endeavor
Starting with a $75 donation, Grey spent $180 to properly register the organization and become tax-exempt. “We were a non-profit, right from the start,” joked Grey. During the first year, a town-wide yard sale netted $800 and a grant from Project Bread brought in another $1,000. Today, the pantry raises funds through grants and events like the popular Turkey Trot fun run that will take place for the ninth year on Thanksgiving morning.
Several Bedford companies participate through grants and active volunteer support; Panera Bread’s store delivers fresh bread every week; and Gaining Ground Farm in Concord provides fresh, in-season produce.
Because the collection of non-perishable foods doesn’t match the pantry’s need, the funds raised are used to purchase additional supplies. Peter and his wife Kathy carefully read the weekly grocery flyers and shop the sales, stocking up when the prices are low. Through these efforts the pantry is able to offer milk and cheese each week, with fresh eggs and link sausages on the last week of the month.
Grey has gathered an enviable team of intergenerational volunteers to support Bedford’s Community Table and Food Pantry. The team includes students-individually and collectively through school-wide food drives-retirees, and at least one nonagenarian. Their contributions range from designating donations to the Pantry as preferred birthday party presents; delivering the Pantry’s weekly supply of fresh produce from Gaining Ground Farm; and lugging, tugging, and stacking shelves. Click here to read about a typical afternoon at the Pantry.
Community Table Dinners – September to May
Bedford churches, community organizations and corporations host 5 pm Thursday Community Table dinners from September through May. The meals are open to anyone in need of a healthy meal or a bit of extra sociability. Grey and two volunteers cooked the first dinner on September 17, 1991, preparing American Chop Suey for 75 guests. Although only 17 turned up, the leftovers were sent to local shelters through Second Servings, Inc., then located at Boston College.
This year’s inaugural Community Table dinner will again be cooked by Grey, and a larger team of volunteers, in celebration of the 25th year. There will be appetizers, pork roast, and an anniversary cake. Interestingly, this year’s first Community Table dinner will take place on September 17, the anniversary date of the first dinner, in the Shawsheen Room on the ground floor at Town Center.
How to Help
Click here to visit the Pantry’s website or here to make an online donation. Non-perishable food with current expiration dates and personal hygiene items may be deposited in the collection bins at the Bedford Super Stop & Shop, or at the Pantry on the ground floor of Town Center. Food drives and bulk donations are welcome; please call the pantry at 781-275-7355 to discuss your plans and its needs.