FRAMINGHAM — Liam Dietrich didn’t know anything about building shelves when he decided to fix up the old cabinets in the Medway Village Church Food Pantry.
The 14-year-old Medway High School sophomore was searching for a service project to complete two years ago when Pantry Director Marilyn Conley approached him with the idea of rebuilding the storage area.
The pantry was outfitted with vintage cabinets that didn’t make good use of the space, requiring volunteers to haul food up to the attic.
“The shelf spacing was really off,” Dietrich said, “and we couldn’t hold as much food as we wanted.”
Dietrich, who volunteers at the pantry with his parents, leapt at the opportunity to help, taking it on as his Eagle Scout project. With no construction experience, Dietrich learned to cut, sand and paint the new shelves, using the existing pieces as models.
“We had the basic format because the shelves that were already in there had the outline that we needed,” he said.
Dietrich received a donation from Exelon, the local power company, to purchase supplies from Lowe’s, which offered him a discount for the material. He also received paint donated by Medway’s Condon Hardware.
After getting to work in July, Dietrich constructed 12 new shelves and installed eight of them, wrapping up the project by Aug. 22, 2015. The pantry’s storage capacity increased by about 30 percent, Dietrich said, the equivalent of installing an extra cabinet.
“He’s an amazing young man,” Conley said of Dietrich, who was recognized Thursday by the United Way of Tri-County for his efforts.
Dietrich was named the MetroWest/495 Corridor Youth Volunteer of the Year at the United Way’s annual awards ceremony at the Sheraton in Framingham. Dietrich said he was honored by the award, which came as a surprise.
“I never knew that there was an award,” he said, “and my parents didn’t even tell me I was nominated until we got the call... .”
Dietrich’s mother, Susan, said her family got involved with the pantry four years ago when her youngest son decided to forego birthday presents from his friends, instead asking them to donate food. The Dietrichs now pitch in on the weekends, joining a crew of about 15 volunteers.
Between volunteering at the pantry and other programs through the Boys Scouts and his church, St. Mary Parish in Franklin, Liam Dietrich logged more than 250 hours of community service. The church in December recognized his volunteer work, presenting him with $500 to donate to the charity of his choice. Dietrich gave the money to the pantry, which serves around 5,000 people in the area. The donation will cover costs for about one month’s worth of food orders, his mother said.
“We’re incredibly proud,” she said.
Dietrich was one of more than a dozen donors and volunteers honored Thursday by the United Way of Tri-County, which celebrated its 85th anniversary. The award recipients included Bob Kays, who was named MetroWest/495 Corridor Volunteer of the Year, and Roger Challen, who received a lifetime achievement award for the role he played in helping the organization find a new home for its food pantry and kitchen.
The United Way was forced to move its Pearl Street Cupboard and Cafe after the building where it operated was sold to a new owner. It relocated in December to 46 Park St., where its administrative offices are also located.
Challen previously owned the Park Street building and leased space to the United Way. While he planned to sell the building in the future, Challen agreed to move up the sale when he learned the nonprofit was in need of assistance.
“You just don’t get opportunities to do those things very often,” Challen said, “so we made the decision to do it now, and we constructed an effective and economical way to do the transaction for everybody.”
Other award recipients included Sunovion Pharmaceuticals, UPS and the DCU Foundation, which received the United Way’s Corporate Leadership Awards; Bose and FM Global, which received the Summit Award; TJX, which received the Gold Summit Award; and the MetroWest Daily News and Access Framingham, which were named Media Partners of the Year.
The United Way also presented its President’s Award to Bob Maresca, president and CEO of Bose.