At 5 a.m. Saturday Joe Capobianco pulls up to the Good Shepherd Parish in Oak Bluffs, heads to the side entrance and checks out the food storage locker. It’s still dark and a bulb is out on one of the outdoor lights but he can find his way even in the predawn darkness. It’s a drill Mr. Capobianco has been doing for the last two years since the pandemic began, getting ready to distribute food for the hungry on the first and third Saturdays of each month.

Pickup begins at 10 a.m. He has five hours to organize and pack 120 boxes filled with fruit, vegetables, bread, eggs, meat, yogurt — a full assortment of foodstuffs that changes every week depending on what the Greater Boston Food Bank has in stock.

But he won’t be alone.

Just before 6 a.m. his assistant Janay Dlabaj arrives, Joe’s ace lieutenant for the morning muster. Janay’s husband is a Coast Guardsman and they moved to the Island two years ago. She started attending services at the Catholic church and then heard there was a part time job available helping with the food distribution. She is good with a clipboard and can stand in the middle of a swirl of activity and be a beacon of calm, a military mom with a four-year-old and two-year-old at home and her teenage daughter volunteering beside her.

Janay and Jessie Dlabaj. — Ray Ewing

“Mom is in charge of telling everyone what to do,” says Jessie Dlabaj, a senior at the regional high school.

Around 8 a.m. a line of cars begins to form even though the distribution won’t begin until 10. The cars line up a block away, in the Oak Bluffs cemetery, across from the library. As the clock ticks the line keeps getting longer, stretching down the cemetery road, bisecting rows of headstones.

At 8:30 a.m. volunteers begin to trickle in — retirees, high school students, husband and wife teams, mother and daughter teams, regulars and newcomers. By 9 a.m. they are over 20 strong, filling boxes with food, breaking down empty boxes, all moving about with precision. Each box has to be packed in exactly the same way to make sure it can fit a maximum amount of food.

“It’s like Jenga,” says Janay. “You have to put everything in the right way or the box won’t close.”

David Wilson, a retired English teacher at the regional high school, is on peppers at the moment.

“There’s a sequence to everything,” he says. “I’m a foot soldier, doing what I’m instructed to do. Right now I’m the pepper guy.”

August “just like the month” Layson works beside David going down the line. “I’m the tomato guy,” he says.

There are apple women, pineapple men, yogurt kids, the list goes one.

David Wilson at his station. — Ray Ewing

Sue Clements is the box break-down specialist, flattening the cardboard as soon as a food bank box has been emptied and transferred to a pick-up box.

“I like to see the mountain and make it move,” she says of box detail.

Devon Webster helps out breaking down boxes. She is leaving the Island soon, moving off to the next chapter of her life but wanted to pitch in before she heads out.

“Hardship comes from anywhere, illness comes from anywhere,” she says, referring to the folks lining up who at any time could be anyone, she says. There is no stigma here.

Her mother Candy Webster is also helping out, sorting bread and eggs.

“My brother died just before Halloween and my mom died in May,” she says. “It’s been a bad year for my family and I was struggling and decided I needed to find a way to contribute and so here we are.”

Candy Webster works the rows of boxes. — Ray Ewing

Kris Kiehn is also on bread at the moment. It’s her second time volunteering. “I would see the line when I went to the library and saw the need and wanted to help out,” she says.

Melissa and Adam Moore arrive. Like many volunteers they started coming when the pandemic began and food insecurity issues started to skyrocket on the Island.

“We are the frozen team,” Melissa says, sorting frozen chickens and sausage, mashed potatoes and tortellini.

It’s 9:30 a.m. now, just 30 minutes to go. Outside it has started to rain. A crew quickly puts up another tent to cover the food. The crew is family and that’s not a metaphor. Joe’s wife Joyce, two sons Anthony and Nick, and daughter Rose, are all here now, jumping in wherever needed. For Anthony the term is literal as he climbs into the recycling dumpster and jumps up and down on the spent cardboard, creating more room.

Joyce and Nick help arrange full boxes of food into rows.

The Capobianco family: Nick, Rose, Joyce, Joe and Anthony. — Ray Ewing

“If Joe doesn’t have the volunteers it doesn’t happen,” Joyce says of the operation. She also acknowledges that her husband is perfectly suited for this job, a food guy at home and at work.

“He’s a big meal planner,” she says. “He does the community suppers, the fish fries, the breakfasts. He owned a pasta shop in Framingham. It was called Anthony’s Pasta Shop.”

Inside the church, Joe takes a moment to break down his weekly schedule, a process he has led for the last decade when the walk-in food pickups began. The driveby pickups began after the pandemic started and the need for food rose along with precautions against gathering inside the parish house.

Joe heads off-Island every Friday morning, leaving on the 5 a.m. ferry to pick up food from the Greater Boston Food Bank, a 117,000-square-foot distribution center in South Boston. But the real work begins a few days earlier.

“I’m at the computer from 4:30 a.m. on Wednesday to start the order and put it in by midnight on Thursday,” he explains while pointing to a huge Excel spreadsheet, courtesy the Greater Boston Food Bank. Each week is a mystery, the food bank never knowing what they will receive and when they will receive it. Folks like Joe, stationed at computers all over the state — in church basements, senior centers, local nonprofits — check the list and click on what they need. But they have to be on the computer at all times, at the ready, because the food goes fast.

“This week two cases of beef tenderloin came up,” Joe says. “I had to jump on it to make sure I got 120 items.”

Tom Engley checks his lists, getting ready for 10 a.m. start time. — Ray Ewing

That is the magic number these days, 120 cars lined up for food pickups twice a month. There are also weekly walk-in opportunities on Tuesdays, where people can have a more direct experience, picking out what they need.

Outside, David Wilson is back on apples and August is on cucumbers. Adam and Melissa sort cartons of milk. There is a discussion about bananas, some are still too green. It is decided that several bunches will be saved for Tuesday’s walk-in service.

It’s 9:50 a.m. and Tom Engley takes up his post in the street.

“I’m traffic control,” he says. “I make sure no one gets run over and I welcome everyone and make sure they are doing okay.”

Line of cars begins hours before the distribution opens. — Ray Ewing

And then the clock strikes 10 a.m. and the cars move forward, inching out of the graveyard to the stacks of boxes, all filled with food and this week take-home Covid test kits, courtesy the town of Oak Bluffs.

The volunteers take up their positions, moving like a well-oiled pit crew. Tom greets, Candy opens trunks, Melissa and Adam place boxes inside cars, Janay hauls frozen bags of food, Jessie and Anthony add bags of lettuce.

Each car is in and out in about 20 seconds. Then the next car pulls up, and the next, and the next, and on and on — just like they have, twice a month, for the past two years.

The Good Shepherd Parish is located at 55 School street, directly across from the Oak Bluffs town hall. Food pick-ups are the first and third Saturdays of each month, beginning at 10 a.m. The Jan. 1 distribution will not take place and so the next one is Jan. 15.

The parish house is also open on Tuesdays for walk-ins from 8 a.m. to noon. Home food deliveries can also be requested. For more information, visit or call 508-696-1948.