Published in the October 7, 2015 edition
By MARK SARDELLA
Wakefield resident Joanne Lima has a uniquely altruistic hobby and among the principal beneficiaries are those that patronize the Wakefield Interfaith Food Pantry.
“I’m a big couponer and I’m able to coupon at little or no cost,” she says. Whatever she thinks the Food Pantry could use and her family wouldn’t use, she donates. Each month, she donates to the Food Pantry a quantity of goods worth at least $200 if people had to go out and purchase them. By combining coupons and shopping sales, Lima says, she pays next to nothing for the items she donates.
“My hope is that through this story couponers especially will look to donate their overage to benefit other people,” says Lima. “There are only so many bottles of shampoo you can have in your house and there’s always going to be another sale.”
She gives some food but says that she has tended to focus more on essential toiletries because the Food Pantry has to spend most of its own budget on staple food items. Soap, shampoo, deodorants, razors, toilet paper and laundry detergent are just some of the products that Lima is able to provide for the Food Pantry through her couponing.
“In the last year, I’ve been trying to focus on what I can do for the Food Pantry because I love to coupon and I love a good deal,” she says. “Especially anything that I get for free — why wouldn’t you donate that?”
Lima says that her sister got her into couponing. It all started, she says, when her daughter, Taylor, was going to college and sharing an apartment with three roommates.
“They never paid for any toiletries,” Lima says. “What they would have to pay $5 for, I probably paid 50 cents for.”
As the years went by, Lima says, she continued couponing and gained more experience. She is quick to debunk the idea that she spends all of her time clipping coupons.
“I do not sit and cut coupons all day long,” she says. “I wouldn’t have the time. There are coupon cutting services out there. They charge very little money for the service. They come in the mail already cut and you’re actually getting the ones you want.”
She cites an example of the deodorants that she’ll be buying next week. “I’m getting them for free,” she says. I didn’t cut the coupons for them. I ordered them specifically for the Food Pantry.” She says she pays about 10 cents per coupon, so she might buy 20 coupons for $2.
Lima recalls when the idea hit her to donate some of the stuff that was filling her house to the Food pantry.
“I remember being at a Wakefield Warriors football game and they were collecting for the Food Pantry and it clicked,” she says.
At first, she would just drop her donations in the Food Pantry donation box on the lower level of the Americal Civic Center. But then she decided to make it a teaching opportunity.
“I really wanted my children to go there and witness it themselves and see how people are struggling, because we have been so very blessed,” Lima says. Her son Michael, a senior at Wakefield Memorial High School, usually goes with her when she donates several times a month and helps carry the boxes in.
Lima says that she spent 25 years working for John Hancock but her job was recently eliminated. She’s consequently been able to spend more time on her avocation as she pursues looking for another job.
“I’ve always been good with math,” she says, adding that it’s important in couponing to be able to target the best buys.
“People always assume that by going to Market Basket they’re going to get the best deal,” she says. “In a lot of cases, that’s not true.” By using coupons and going to stores like Stop & Shop that double coupons, she says, you will often pay less.
But Lima stresses that you don’t have to be good at math to be a successful couponer.
“There are experts out there that can help,” she says. “There are Facebook groups and blogs that post the deals for you.” She notes that some stores hire people to post the deals they are offering because they know that if shoppers come for one sale or coupon item, they’ll end up making other purchases too.
The Food Pantry isn’t the only beneficiary of Lima’s couponing largesse.
“Right now, I take care of my own family, my parents, my brothers, two of my friends and the Food Pantry – all from doing couponing,” she says. “They don’t pay for shampoo, laundry detergent, toilet paper or paper towels. That’s how far I can expand with the couponing and it’s worked out so well.”
She also coupons for the Wakefield Warriors Wrestling Club. Her son Michael is on the WMHS wrestling team.
“I’ve worked the concession stand so I know what they need,” she says. She has cases of bottled water in her garage that she got for free via couponing that she plans to donate to the Wrestling Club to sell. Other items, like granola bars, she was able to purchase at 30 cents for a box of six. “They’ll be able to sell them for a dollar a bar, so it’s all profit for them,” Lima says.
She also has bags of pens that she got for free that she plans to donate to the High School.
“If I’m getting the stuff for free, I try to think of who could use them in a network of need,” she says. “I like to do it. I like to be able to get something for free or make money on it so then I feel really good about donating it because it didn’t come out of my budget at all.”
Interfaith Food Pantry director Maureen Miller greatly appreciates everything that Lima does.
“She does an unbelievable job,” Miller says. “She gets us all the items we need and she gets them for a very low price with coupons.”
Lima says she hopes that others will consider donating to the Food Pantry. She says that she has seen elderly people as well as families with children at the Food Pantry.
“I cried the first time I went in there,” she says. “If each member of the Wakefield community donated one item a week, it would be huge.
“There are a lot of couponers out there and I hope they will consider doing that,” she says. “Otherwise, they’re going to run out of room in their house!”
[For information on the Wakefield Interfaith Food Pantry and how to donate, go to wifoodpantry.org.]