Food pantries need help to feed 6,000 hungry Waldo County residents
September is Hunger Action Month, and Waldo County food pantry volunteers are hoping that Feeding America’s nationwide hunger awareness-building campaign will help restock their shelves and replenish their treasuries.
Good Shepherd Food Bank is encouraging hunger advocates to wear orange on Thursday, Sept. 4, and to engage in a variety of other activities this month to raise awareness of the 49 million people who struggle with hunger across the country.
In Waldo County, almost 6,000 people, nearly 2,000 of them children — one of every four — don’t have enough to eat, according to a study by Feeding America, a nonprofit network of 200 food banks and sponsor of the Hunger Action Month campaign.
In Maine, 15.5 percent of the population — including more than 64,000 children — suffer from hunger.
Maine ranks 18th in the nation and first in New England in terms of food insecurity overall and among children, according to the U. S. Department of Agriculture. Among seniors, Maine ranks 17th in the nation and first in New England.
Good Shepherd, the largest hunger relief organization in Maine and a member of the Feeding America network, distributes food to a number of Waldo County programs, including eight food pantries that serve the public.
The pantries also acquire food and financial support through donations from individuals, businesses, farms, religious groups, the government, and other nonprofits.
Most of the pantries are operated by volunteers, with established hours and pickup days, as well as emergency services. Many are church-sponsored.
At least one — the Volunteer Regional Food Pantry in Unity — has grown into a diversified community-run enterprise that doesn’t just distribute food; it teaches clients to grow, preserve and prepare it.
Other pantries are under-funded and hard-pressed to deal with the burgeoning need. Still others have closed their doors for lack of support.
Demand for food assistance has increased dramatically since the 2008 economic downturn, local pantry volunteers told The Republican Journal, and resources haven’t always kept pace. On the Internet, lists of food pantries and soup kitchens advise you to call before going, as hours may have changed or the pantry may have ceased operation.
Little River Baptist Church
One local food pantry operated by Little River Baptist Church in Belfast is acting on some promotional recommendations in Good Shepherd’s “30 Ways in 30 Days” calendar of ideas for Hunger Action Month (Visit http://www.gsfb.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/HAM-14-30-Ways-in-30-Days-Calendar.pdf.)
“We happen to have orange church T-shirts, and we’ll probably wear them on food pantry day,” said Kim Baker of Searsport, wife of Little River pastor Scott Baker.
“We’re also having a food drive in the church, asking people to bring in boxed and canned items by Sept. 17, in time for our pantry day.”
Monetary contributions are welcome, as well as food, to help the 80 to 100 families the pantry serves, she said.
For the benefit of those in need, Baker pointed out that clients can obtain food from more than one pantry.
“Many people don’t realize that they can go to other pantries, ” she said. “Just because they came here today for food doesn’t mean they can’t go to another pantry tomorrow.”
Belfast Church of the Nazarene
Stacy Walker of Searsport runs another site in the city, the Church of the Nazarene’s food pantry in East Belfast.
On Aug. 27, Walker arranged to have Good Shepherd’s Food Mobile come to the church. Clients lined up in the parking lot; the Food Mobile served 102 families that day.
“They load a truck for the number of families you request, and clients choose their food,” Walker said. “Last week the Food Mobile brought vegetables — tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, corn, spinach — as well as canned and boxed goods, frozen meats, turkey, and more.
“I’m working to try to open our pantry more often, but always having enough food to distribute is an issue,” Walker added. “It’s hard.”
AMVETS Memorial Post 150
In Liberty, Wayne Van Duysen currently operates the AMVETS Memorial Post 150 food pantry. When his father, Theodore, became ill a few years ago, the younger Van Duysen took over his dad's responsibilities. The AMVETS pantry serves 75 to 100 families.
“I make up boxes for families of one to two, three to four, and five to six people — then I’ll combine those for larger families,” he said.
Constrained by lack of refrigeration, he sometimes must refuse donations of fresh vegetables. “But when they come in at this time of year, I post a notice at roadside, and people stop by,” he added.
Any donations fostered by Hunger Action Month would be a boon to the AMVETS’ pantry program, as it receives no federal grants.
“We appreciate donations of food and money, and we accept returnables,” Van Duysen said. “Money from returnables helps pay for our gas to drive to Augusta and Auburn to pick up food. We’re very thankful for any donations.”
Searsport Congregational - Methodist
Ralph Harvey of Searsport manages the Searsport Congregational-Methodist Food Pantry, held at the United Methodist Church, 43 E. Main St.
“We serve 100 to 120 families per month,” Harvey said. “I have the clients sign in with the number of people in their families. It averages out to 2.3 people per family.”
Open the first and third Saturdays each month, the pantry also takes emergency calls at 548-6204. The food pantry welcomes donations of food and money to support its efforts.
Volunteer Regional Food Pantry
The “largest food pantry around,” according to Bunny Moore of Unity, the Volunteer Regional Food Pantry serves 275 families – 600 to 700 people – in Unity and 10 surrounding towns. Moore and her husband Richard are members of VRFP’s board of directors.
Established in 1992 at the Unity Union Church, the pantry has outgrown a succession of buildings. It now operates from the former Unity firehouse at 180 Depot St., which is large enough to enable VRFB to store and distribute food from the same location, while providing a venue for meetings and classes, a backyard garden, an office, and a highly-efficient “drive-through” distribution system.
“We don’t just distribute food,” Moore said. “We teach clients how to grow it and use it.”
Moore and her husband Richard manage an educational component that includes classes in gardening, taught by veteran organic farmer Joyce Benson of Troy, with practical experience in the onsite garden, and free home garden assistance, including tillage, seeds, and advice.
As part of that program, Moore said, they have given away chickens — meat birds and laying hens — as well as seeds and seedlings. They’ve taught clients how to plant trees, create and maintain a root cellar, make sausage, and “some fun things” like arranging flowers using garden blooms and roadside weeds.
This fall, VRFP will add classes in bread making and creating holiday gifts from the kitchen.
The pantry also offers classes in canning, freezing and food safety instruction, provided in conjunction with the University of Maine Cooperative Extension Service; cooking classes taught by Monica Murphy, owner of Crosstrax Neighborhood Deli in Unity; soup kitchens at the Unity Community Center, in collaboration with the Quaker Hill Christian Church, also in Unity; and gleaning, the gathering of lower-grade, but still nutritious and tasty, vegetables from farm fields, offered in partnership with Maine Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster.
For more information, go to the VRFP website at http://www.vrfp.org.
Correction: This story has been changed as AMVETS Memorial Post 150 does recieve support from local communities.