WATERTOWN — Dressed in nearly-identical orange Hawaiian shirts and black pants, Gervin C. and Linda L. Friedrich began their weekly duties on Wednesday afternoon with the Watertown City School District’s Food4Families program.
“Normally our shirts are matching...she makes them,” Mr. Friedrich said, nodding to his wife.
The duo have been volunteering with the pantry since it began, after a former pastor of their church encouraged them.
However, Mr. and Mrs. Friedrich, 75 and 73, respectively, are set to retire at the end of the academic year. Though they plan to continue volunteering at the pantry on occasion, it’s time for them to take a step back.
“We are getting older and I’m not as strong as I used to be,” she said, laughing.
The program, launched in 2016, is an in-school pantry serving students and their families, giving qualifying students a bag full of nutritious food each Friday.
Located in the basement of the Massey Street Learning Center, the pantry’s tables are stacked high with nonperishables. The couple are responsible for taking inventory, stocking shelves, verifying food orders with the Food Bank of Central New York and making sure the bags of food are properly delivered.
This weeks’ bags are each filled with one box of cereal, one box of pasta, one can of spaghetti sauce, one can of fruit and one can of vegetables, Mrs. Friedrich said. Once the 116 bags are packed, they are brought up to the school for students to pick up.
Stacey J. Eger, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, said the Friedrichs have been instrumental in the program.
“Without Linda and Gervin, we wouldn’t have the program we do,” Ms. Eger said. “I don’t think they’ve ever missed a day of packing, they are always on top of inventory for us and they are always looking for new ways to get the community involved.”
For their service, Ms. Eger said it was fitting for the district to recognize the Friedrichs. They received a certificate on Wednesday night during the Board of Education meeting.
“They’re just a perfect example of community and school coming together. It’s devastating to see them leave,” Ms. Eger said. Ms. Eger said when the program began, the district never imagined someone would spear-head the program with so much passion.
There have been multiple occasions, Ms. Eger recalled, when if the food bank was out of an item, Mr. and Mrs. Friedrich would go from grocery store to grocery store negotiating prices and, eventually, getting the item for that week’s bags.
But Ms. Eger said there will be a smooth transition once they retire.
One-year volunteer Randy J. Elie has volunteered to take over, with experience also with Meals on Wheels and the Watertown Urban Mission.
“He started this year full-fledge volunteering and we were so happy about it,” Ms. Eger said. “He has been really helpful with filling volunteer gaps.”
As for the Friedrichs’ plans for the future, Mrs. Friedrich will be focused on working with their church as the nursery director and Mr. Friedrich will continue being a self-proclaimed “Mr. Fix It” for friends and family.
“We’ve really enjoyed it here,” Mrs. Friedrich said.