Community Celebrates Long-Time Volunteers 2021

This article appeared in the WEBSTER TIMES on Friday, March 12, 2021 

Community celebrates longtime Oxford Food Shelf volunteers
By Kevin Flanders, Staff Writer 

OXFORD – The community is celebrating a pair of longtime volunteers who recently retired from the Oxford Ecumenical Council, which manages the Oxford Food Shelf. 

John Kneeland, who has served as chairperson of the Oxford Ecumenical Council for the past 18 years, retired in December. Doug Selby, another dedicated volunteer, retired after several years on the council. Together, Kneeland and Selby have combined to volunteer at the Food Shelf for more than 50 years.


The Oxford Ecumenical Council has two representatives from each of the Christian churches in Oxford. The Food Shelf operates on donations, receiving most of its food from the Worcester County Food Bank in Shrewsbury. Some food is donated by local grocery stores, and the Congregational Church in Oxford grows a share garden every summer. 

The Oxford Food Shelf’s unique setup enables families to arrive each month and choose the food they need (rather than receive a box of food selected by volunteers). This setup affords individuals the flexibility they need during a difficult period in their lives. 

For Kneeland and Selby, the mission of volunteering at the Food Shelf far transcends community service. 

“Over time, the clients became like family, and our volunteers and the host church workers treated one another with dignity and respect – and sometimes with hugs and kisses,” Selby said.

Even after retirement from the council, Kneeland continues to volunteer and help the new chairperson, Christina St. Martin, transition into her role.

Looking back on his nearly 20 years with the council, Kneeland thanks Selby and everyone who came together to help those in need. 

“Doug is a great man to work with. He knows how to take charge and get things done,” Kneeland said. “There are so many great people involved.” 

In recognition of his outstanding service, Kneeland was named Citizen of the Year in Oxford in 2019. And when the COVID-19 pandemic struck a year later, he and the team of volunteers were once again ready to meet the challenges. Thanks to their hard work, the Food Shelf was able to transition into a new drive-through method of offering food in accordance with the state’s guidelines. 

“During my 13 years with the OEFS, John Kneeland was the heart and soul of the organization,” Selby said. “He was the one who kept us on the straight and narrow and never refused to help someone in need.” 

Thanks to the dedication and organization of Kneeland and other volunteers, Selby was able to focus heavily on procuring items to ensure that the shelves were always full. He was thrilled to see the number of regular volunteers grow from six to twenty individuals. 

Over the years, the volunteers have become a tight-knit operation. Members also took the time to get to know clients on a personal level. 

“John Kneeland is a big-hearted soul who treated his Food Shelf clients like family. He knew their personal situations because they had dealt with John for so long and felt they could tell him anything,” St. Martin said. “If a client passed away, John could be seen at the calling hours or funeral services. John always wanted to make sure that there were plenty of toys for the children at Christmas and backpacks for the children at the beginning of the school year.” 

Additionally, Kneeland picked up mail, deposited checks, and notified the Council treasurer and secretary so they could post the deposits and send thank-you notes accordingly. He also wrote grants to secure more funds for the Food Shelf. 

And Selby was always at his side to provide support and help keep the program running smoothly. He also went above and beyond to help individuals have a positive experience. 

“Doug Selby provided the comic relief that made the Food Shelf a comfortable place for clients to shop, and for volunteers to feel relaxed and useful,” St. Martin said. “Even when there were already plenty of volunteers, Doug never liked to turn anyone away. He started each Thursday evening off with a short speech that got everyone smiling, and then asked for a volunteer to start the evening off with a prayer.” 

Added St. Martin, “Doug put endless hours into making sure that the Food Shelf was properly stocked. He kept track of the inventory and made sure that the food that was received first was distributed first. Doug was also the person in charge of picking up bread, pastries, and near-date produce from Price Chopper and Park and Shop each Thursday morning.” 

Selby and fellow volunteer, Ron Chesties, were also known to visit the schools to pick up donations collected by students. Selby also purchased food throughout the year to provide boxes of food for families during the summer months, when children weren’t getting school breakfasts and lunches at school.