WHITMAN — On Sunday, April 19, a steady parade of vehicles stopped in front of the LaMattina house on River Birch Circle all morning. They stopped long enough for Selectman Randy LaMattina or his wife Michelle to load something in the back before driving away.
Residents were taking delivery of 18X24 Whitman Strong lawn signs, designed by 14-year-old Clare LaMattina to benefit the Whitman Food Pantry. She has raised $4,000 so far.
“Awesome! Great idea!” one woman said as the signs were loaded into her vehicle.
By afternoon, the signs were popping up on front lawns or windows of homes and businesses all over town — with photos posted on social media. The signs are intended to show solidarity and support of frontline essential workers and community spirit, as well.
A member of the Girls in Action Club at Thayer Academy, where she is an eighth-grader, Clare has sold about 220 of the signs at $15 each in four days. Of those, 80 were sold in the first two hours. Some residents have made “overwhelming” donations above the purchase price, and the extra cash will be used to purchase gift certificates to area restaurants, which will also be distributed through the food pantry.
“We’ve been thinking that people who can’t afford groceries, probably can’t afford to go out for a pizza, and how much would their kids love that?” Michelle said.
A second batch of signs was being ordered for delivery to the LaMattinas on Wednesday.
“We really focus on giving back to our community,” Clare said of the club. “I wanted to bring it back to my home community to support people who were less fortunate during this time and to help support them.”
Whitman Food Pantry President Bruce Perry stopped by the LaMattina’s to talk about the need in the community his organization serves.
“We have seen an increase [in demand], but only around 10 percent,” Perry said. “We were expecting a lot more. We have a lot of food at the food pantry and we’re just waiting for that surge.”
He noted news photos of lines of cars streaming to food pantries in other areas of the country.
“People may be afraid or embarrassed to come,” he said.
Normal pantry procedure has clients provide their income information for government statistics. But that is being waived during the pandemic.
“We’re not taking names, we’re not taking any information, the only thing we’re asking is that they show proof of Whitman residency,” Perry said. Residents are asked to call ahead at 781-447-8560 and leave a message that will be returned. When a time to stop at the pantry is provided, a box and a couple of bags of food items will be brought out to one’s vehicle at the 44 Blake St., loading dock. No one is allowed in the pantry at this time.
Those ordering signs are asked to drive around the cul de sac and stop in front of the house at 6 River Birch Circle, where they give their name for Clare to check off her list while one of her parents loads the signs.
Physical distancing is observed in that way, and the LaMattinas wear masks and/or gloves while handling the signs. Buyers were asked to post a photo of their sign on Facebook, once placed.
Some people asked for the signs to be delivered.
“We’re thinking once they are out in circulation, it’s going to boost it again,” Michelle said.
At first the sale was only posted on Michelle LaMattina’s Facebook page, but it was later posted to the Whitman Connection page, which helped sell another 100.
“We knew we had to put Whitman Strong on it,” Clare said. “Then a heart, because we’re supporting everybody and we want to spread the love and the paw, because we’re the Panthers.”
She said the Whitman Food Pantry was selected as a beneficiary because it’s harder for people to afford food when they lose their jobs.
“We’ve helped with the food pantry before, whether it’s through school or town committees, but we said we don’t want people to feel embarrassed to go to the food pantry, that’s why it’s there,” Michelle said. “This is a trying time. It’s a great thing in the community that people put a lot of effort into.”
Right now, food donations are not being accepted at the pantry because the virus can live on surfaces for a couple of days. Donations like Clare’s allows the Whitman pantry to purchase from the Greater Boston Food Bank for 29 cents per pound, where items are cleaned and have been sitting for the requisite time.
“We want people to call,” Perry said. “You can take the money you saved and pay a bill or something. Please call. … We have tons of volunteers that want to help.”
Perry also said the gift card donations help, because the pantry is not permitted to write a check to businesses for them due to federal regulations.
Businessman Richard Rosen has also made a donation to the project.
“I just think what she’s doing is so admirable,” Rosen said of Clare LaMattina’s project. “For a young person to take on a challenge like that is just amazing.”
He said it showed a sense of moral resoponsibility as well as a shot in the arm for the pantry.
“The food pantry desperately needs funds all the time,” he said. “That’s why we donate half of what we make on every year’s road race. There’s need, and this year, more than ever, there’s more need. … And you really need to support something like that. It’s great for the community.”
The McGuiggan’s 5K Road Race is being postponed at least until September, Rosen said.