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More MS news articles for February 2004

Six who made a difference share their wishes

February 22, 2004
Kellyanne Mahoney
The Boston Globe

Mike Joyce took a look at the fancy spread of hors d'oeuvres and quipped that they must not be from Patty's Pantry. Earlier that day, the program director of Dorchester's Colonel Daniel Marr Boys and Girls Club wondered aloud whether he needed to wear a necktie to the private ceremony at the swank Baytower Room -- held partly in his honor.

Such are those who are named Boston Neighborhood Fellows, according to the annual award's administrator, The Philanthropic Initiative Inc.: down-to-earth neighborhood types whose achievements often go unnoticed.

"They're the quiet ones," said Mayor Thomas Menino. "The effective ones. The ones who give of themselves on a daily basis." Menino attended last month's ceremony for the honorees, who will each receive $30,000 over the next three years.

Since 1990, $1.9 million has been given out, all coming from one anonymous donor who requested that the selection process be designed to steer clear of bureaucracy and politics. Fellows are nominated by anonymous "spotters." They have no idea they are being considered for the prize until they receive a surprise phone call in December.

This year's winners talked about their wishes for the future.

Nancy Jamison

ACHIEVEMENT: In 1988, founded Fair Foods, Inc., of Dorchester, which distributes more than 6 million pounds of surplus food to the poor annually.

HER WISH: "We need to have a little more gratitude if we're able, instead of feeling like we earned what we've got. I feel like I can earn it. And I should be grateful that I can. And I should give. [For example,] we have so many minimum-wage earners in the hospitals. They're surely as important as anyone else. The cleaning people in the hospitals. The cafeteria workers. Everybody in a hospital is important to that hospital's existence. And yet we have this crazy notion, 'Well I went to medical school, and I studied hard.' Well, does that mean you should be rewarded for 50 more years? Because you had the opportunity to go to medical school? Even if you earned that opportunity, you were able to do that. I mean I'm sure you had a lot more fun in college, dear, than someone who was pushing a broom there for four years. Should you be rewarded at their expense? Or should you both, maybe, take care of each other a little?"

"Don't you want to hear about the beginning of Fair Foods?" Jamison, 53, said one Saturday morning in Dorchester's Pilgrim Church, formerly a traditional Congregational church but now more of a homeless shelter.

She begins her tale with the late Rev. David Venator, the church's longtime pastor. He was standing at Uphams Corner one day in 1982 holding a sign that read: Venator for Senator.

"And he started talking to me about politics," recallrf Jamison. "And I said: 'I'm a Mennonite. I don't believe in politics. I work for God.' "

"And he said: 'Get in the church. We have work to do.' "

Jamison, 53, of Dorchester, says she grew up on a farm in Pennsylvania and then became a hippie and a New York fashion designer, in that order. The Big Apple was too fast for her, she said. "I have a little bit of an illness, epilepsy." Crossing streets there became dangerous. She also said she has a "mild case" of multiple sclerosis. In the last year, there was a cancer diagnosis, too, but she said it is in remission.

One day, while working at Pilgrim Church for Habitat for Humanity, she passed a Stop & Shop distribution center on Causeway Street and saw a pile of surplus bread being dumped out back.

"So I got a truck and started getting the bread," she recalled. "I'd go get it. Bring it to the church. Give it away."

When a friend of Jamison's, a truck driver at the Chelsea Market wholesale distribution center, told her about dumping thousands of pounds of carrots, she decided to get them too.

And in 1988, she founded Fair Foods.

These days, four trucks leave Fair Foods every morning between 6 and 7, heading out to baked-goods and produce distributors, mainly at the Chelsea Market, to salvage their surpluses and drop them off at about 60 volunteer-staffed sites a year.

"There are so many things discarded in this country, dear," she says. "We need to get every single thing that's surplus and give it to the needy."

Old paint. Hotel curtains. Discontinued children's books. Wood.

Jamison said the Fellowship money came just in time -- the program had been about $30,000 in the hole when she got the phone call -- and it is all going back to the program.

"I get money in the mail," Jamison said. "Just when I need it. It's really true."

Copyright © 2004, The Boston Globe