2 April

SOS For Soap! Food Pantry: Sara Harrington, And The Amazing Search For Love And Soap And Nourishment

by Jon Katz

(Sarah’s Urgent Food Choice For  Children And Families Today: Dial Soap Bars, 8 bars,  $6.47. The food pantry is out of soap, so this is one of the most urgent requests.)


Sarah Harrington is one of those unconsciously remarkable people. She is shy yet powerful, quiet, yet a workaholic, modest but in charge,  a modern executive in a traditional environment modernizing a community pantry that had no website.

Everyone at the pantry loves her, and many worry about her working herself into exhaustion.

She also has the gift of empathy and compassion. She wants to get her guests (her name for the people who come for food) the best possible food and the gift of dignity.

I see a competent person who knows what she is doing. I trust her completely and appreciate working with her. In some curious way, we are similar. She makes doing good seem easy.

She has two college degrees—a Master’s In Visual Communications from Temple University and a Bachelor’s In Graphic Design—and has had many high-powered and diverse jobs.

She’s even edited her own magazine. Some might say her world has shrunk as the new director of the Cambridge Food Pantry.

Obviously not.

She knows how the modern world works, and how to reach out to it.

But she’s one of the blessed ones, doing what she loves and most cares about – helping people who need help.

No wonder we get along so well. Sarah is a sucker for underdogs, “that’s my thing,” she says. “These people don’t have the luxury of saving for their retirement. It’s tough out there; I see it all the time.”

The Army of Good has done an excellent job sending food to her pantry. “It has made all the difference, “she says. This is the good stuff—a lot of food they love and miss. They noticed the change right away.”

But she made it happen.

By Thursday, all of the food on those shelves will be gone, and the shelves will be empty. Our donations are giving the pantry some breathing room, the guests are very grateful..

Sarah has devoted her life now to helping people get the food they need but can’t afford, She has recruited me and the Army of Good to help get the food they want, but that can’t be brought through the vast and complex food pantry system.

“It makes such a difference when they can bring home the food their families want and love; it makes them feel whole and successful again.”

One story I heard stuck in my mind: a woman who cried when she saw a jug of Tide Detergent, something she always loved but could no longer get.

We are filling the void between what people want and need and what the food pantry system can’t provide.

Maria and I spent the morning opening packages and stacking them for the rush tomorrow. “It will all be gone by the end of the day,” she said.

I felt guilty about all the work it took to unpack those packages and wanted to help. A squad of devoted volunteers came to finish the job, as they always do.

“I’ve worked at other food pantries,” she said, “but this one is different—the vibe, the volunteers, the sense of community.”



I can already feel it.

But for all the good happening here, Sarah is the one who brought it all together. She recruited me, understood me, was honest with me, listened to me, taught me,  and instantly understood the potential of the Amazon Wish Lists as a powerful tool for nonprofits, something  I saw at the Mansion and then Bishop Maginn.

Working with Sarah, we’ve refined the Wish List idea, which gives donors the power to spend and purchase what they want.

Sarah is moving the pantry to the next generation, recruiting local advocates, and even starting a website.

Sarah is the first executive director to have an e-mail address. She is also a passionate texter; that’s how she and I communicate.

She and Maria hit it off right away; both love hard work and physical work, and they get right down to business. Both are artists.

Maria signed up to be a regular volunteer. She’s going back next week to help. Me too.

(Dial Soap For Children And Families: $6.47 per box of eight bars.)

Sarah is married (to a school vice principal) and has two grown sons. She is also a dog lover. She almost melted when I brought her outside to meet Zinnia, who was waiting in the car.

It rarely takes more than a minute for her to answer a text, and I return the favor. We talk back and forth all day.  She works all the time and is available all the time. She sends pictures of the boxes pouring into the pantry from the Army Of Good.

Seeing all the packages you have been sending was a wonderful thing for me to see. We are doing some heavy good. I also noticed how much work goes into opening those packages and distributing all of those cans and bottles and boxes.

Sarah is teaching me how the complex and limited food supply system works, how important farmers are to the system, and how supermarkets are very generous but limited in what they can give away.

Before the pantry, one local market used to haul tons of still-fresh food to the dump. Now, it goes to the Food Pantry Regional Fund and the pantries.

However, many foods and products are owned by the companies that make them, not the supermarkets, and they come and collect the things that don’t sell. They rarely give them away.

I spent much time speaking with Sarah this morning and taking photos of her and the pantry. I’ll write more about her and what I am learning about a system that seems increasingly essential daily.

In the meantime, I hope we can get these children and their families some soap. They very much want to be healthy and clean; I hope we can help them:

A box of Dial soap bars costs $6.47. I’m buying three boxes; what you are doing is lovely beyond words. I hope we can maintain it.

Zinnia waited quietly in the car while I was inside the food pantry.


  1. I work for a Community Action Program in another state. The need is real. We answer requests for food every day. Today a man came to our door for food. He made it plain that he did not want to be there, but he had just rented a new apartment and “First and last took all my money.”
    We helped him, and he made it clear that as soon as he was on his feet he did not want out help. But we were there for him and so many others.

  2. Jon, the work you and Maria are doing in support of the pantry is great. Just curious…anything happening at the mansion?

  3. When I volunteered for Foodshare, a local part of feeding America, Target was often our pantry’s source of soaps of all kinds.
    One person gathered a lot of hotel tubes of shampoo and such and donated a whole lot of much needed items. Perhaps a request can be put out for those sorts of items on your blog. I’m so glad that I can do what little I can because all of us in the AOG are making a huge difference.

    1. Thanks Holly for your thoughtful message I’ll pass it along. Sarah is all over new ways to gather food. I stick with the Army Of Good and stay focused it’s going well.

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