A Season of Giving

Three organizations provide assistance with food, clothing and financial support for families in need.

By Lisa Cavanaugh

Once the summer crowds have left, the residents of Chatham get ready for the charms and challenges of the upcoming winter. The holiday season is a time when we think about our neighbors in need. Philanthropy in Chatham comes in many forms, and here are three organizations who have found creative ways to give back to the community we call home.



Some of the turkeys you might see on Thanksgiving day in Chatham won’t be on your family’s table—they could be running down Stage Harbor Road to help raise funds for the Lower Cape Outreach Council. Costumes are encouraged at The Chatham Turkey Trot, an annual run/walk started 12 years ago by Mary Parsons and Linda Redding, two Chatham residents who wanted to do something for their less-fortunate neighbors. Inspired by Sandwich’s “We Gather Together” walk, Parsons urged her friend and walking buddy Redding to join her in creating their own Thanksgiving day run/walk. The event is a way for locals to give back and support the outreach council’s mission of providing emergency assistance with food, clothing and financial support to individuals and families on the Lower Cape.

TurkeyTrot2015_8221Participants are asked to bring nonperishable items as part of their entry fee, and the groceries and money raised are donated to LCOC, just in time to help feed and support families in Lower Cape towns during the holiday season. The Turkey Trot has grown each year, and 2015’s event saw nearly 2,000 runners and walkers take the 3.1 mile route that loops through Chatham.

Parsons believes the run is great way to kick off a family holiday, both by burning some early-in-the-day calories and helping out hungry families in the community. She thinks it is wonderful to see so many families having so much fun with it. “And the next day when we deliver the groceries, that is also such a great feeling,” she says. Redding adds that The Lower Cape Outreach Council staff is always thrilled to see the “truckloads” of food delivered.

They truly appreciate the generosity of the many local businesses that sponsor the race and donate amazing raffle prizes, as well as the hard work by their volunteer committee who help run the Turkey Trot. The event raised more than $27,000 last year. Parsons and Redding are both avid walkers, but are too busy organizing the event to walk it themselves. “But the whole thing is wrapped up by 10 in the morning,” says Redding, leaving plenty of time to go home and put the real turkeys in the oven.


Fisherman Kurt Martin hands frozen scup (which he caught weir fishing in Nantucket Sound) to a boy at The Family Pantry of Cape Cod in Harwich.
Fisherman Kurt Martin hands frozen scup (which he caught weir fishing in Nantucket Sound) to a boy at The Family Pantry of Cape Cod in Harwich.

Chatham is known for its delicious seafood and long tradition of commercial fishing, so finding a way to share the local bounty of the sea makes perfect philanthropic sense. The Chatham-based Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen’s Alliance has partnered with The Family Pantry of Cape Cod and the Cape Cod Hunger Network to do just that. The Fish For Families program was the brainstorm of Fishermen’s Alliance CEO John Pappalardo and Mary Anderson, the former executive director of The Family Pantry, as a way to bring locally caught fish to the tables of Cape Codders struggling with food insecurity. “I am very pleased that the Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen’s Alliance is able to give back to our community in such a core and basic way,” says Pappalardo.

Since its inception in 2013, Fish For Families has provided more than 30,000 pounds of local seafood, including skate wings, dogfish, bluefish, sea clams, scup and mackerel to thousands of residents of Cape Cod through a network of food pantries, including The Lower Cape Outreach Council. The program provides a chance to showcase some under-loved species of fish that are abundant in the waters off Chatham, support fishermen and feed hungry members of the community. Seafood is a healthy source of protein that is often cost-prohibitive for families on a tight budget, and pantry clients are happy to get an opportunity to enjoy the fish caught by the local fleet.

More than 30 Cape Cod small-boat fishermen have been part of the program so far and they are proud to share their catch with their neighbors. Chatham fisherman John Tuttle, who has provided dogfish to the effort, says, “It’s great to know exactly where my fish goes once I offload it: to the families who need food on Cape Cod.”

Pappalardo adds, “The Fish for Families program is the simplest example of neighbor helping neighbor,” and he feels that Cape Cod is a better place because of it.


There are angels among us working diligently to make sure that every child in Chatham has a happy holiday. Pat Vreeland and Ginny Nickerson met in 1984 when Vreeland, then the Chatham school nurse, asked Nickerson, owner of The Children’s Shop, for donations to a clothing drive she ran each winter to help needy students. After a few years of support, Nickerson asked Vreeland how she funded the rest of the items, which could not be supplied by local merchants, and Vreeland admitted that she used her own savings. As donations trickled in, she would repay herself. “I said that was nuts,” says Nickerson, who, as a member of the Board of the Chatham Merchants Association, got her local business colleagues to donate a certain percentage of their gross sales from Thanksgiving to Christmas to the newly christened “Chatham Angel Fund.”

Nickerson, who is an artist herself, had the idea of creating an angel ornament, designed each year by local school children or artists to be sold in Chatham stores.

This year, renowned local artist Tilda McGee Bystrom offered a design and they are expected to sell out as they have in the past. Generous businesses, such as The Chatham Wayside Inn and Chatham Bars Inn, sponsor the production cost of the ornaments and all profits go toward providing winter coats, boots, sweaters and other needs—for example, prescription glasses, medical/dental expenses and school trip fees—through a collaboration with Vreeland’s Chatham Children’s Fund (now operating under the aegis of Monomoy Community Services.)

More than 60 volunteers are the “elves” who help to purchase and pack the children’s clothing starting in September each year. David & Gail Oppenheim have generously donated space for storing the items and other local businesses “adopt” families or children for the season to buy their holiday gifts. The anonymous wish list is posted in merchant association stores, so individual shoppers can also play Santa and fill the stockings of less-fortunate families.

Vreeland says that despite the facade of being a wealthy community, there is a significant chunk of the Chatham population that struggles to make ends meet; for this reason, she is grateful to Nickerson for her help over the past 25 years. For her part, Nickerson believes that Chatham is truly a fortunate town to have Vreeland and the local teachers who “give tirelessly of their time to shop, wrap, sort and deliver so that no child is left out of having a Merry Christmas.”