West End Branch Librarian Honored as Community Hero

By Dan Murphy

At a Nov. 9 reception at the Boston Marriot Copley Place that drew around 1,100 attendees, West End branch librarian Helen Bender was among 21 Community Heroes honored by ABCD (Action for Boston Community Development).

A lifelong Boston resident with two master’s degrees, she joined the Boston Public Library staff in 1982 and has served as its West End librarian since 2007. Since 2009, Bender, who now acts as an ABCD Neighborhood Advisory board member, has provided space at the West End branch for the organization’s North End/West End NSC (NE/WE NSC) food pantry, which assists over 100 people in need from the Amy Lowell Apartments, Blackstone Apartments, Beacon House, Shriners Hospital and elsewhere each month.

“This area has many hidden poor,” Bender said. “You think it’s a relatively wealthy community, but there are many longtime residents who are barely getting by on Social Security and with increasing rents.”

Bender credits Church on the Hill’s contributions for helping to sustain the program.

“The pantry has become a hub in many ways, and it’s our pleasure to support them,” said its pastor, Kevin Baxter. “Many people struggle to just maintain homes. It’s great to be able to help keep our community together.”

ABCD President/CEO John J. Drew wrote, “ABCD is proud to put the spotlight on the volunteers who go above and beyond to assist and serve our most vulnerable neighbors. Our North End/West End Director Maria Stella Gulla nominated Community Hero Helen Bender because she personifies that commitment through the ABCD food pantry located at the BPL’s West End branch.”

Priscilla Foley, director of neighborhood services for the Boston Public Library, wrote,  “The food pantry continues to be a vital resource for many West End residents, and Helen’s facilitation and commitment to its success are significant contributors to its longevity and sustainability. Boston Public Library is extremely proud of Helen’s work with ABCD and her role as West End Branch Librarian, as she connects library patrons and community members with enriching educational services and programs daily.”

This award isn’t the first accolade Bender has received, either.

In 2013, she was awarded the Romantic Times Convention and was heralded as a  “librarian who cares award for service above and beyond to the book reading public.” It was the first time a librarian has been recognized by this publication.

The next year, she received the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Senate Official Citation in recognition of “her outstanding contributions and service as librarian of the West End Branch of the Boston Public Library” at a ceremony sponsored by ABCD NE/WE.

The eldest of seven children, Bender is following the example set by her 83-year-old mother, who currently volunteers at a Cape Cod food pantry and was in attendance at the Community Heroes reception.

“You do what you can to help people,” Bender said. “That’s what’s really important. It becomes a win-win.”

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