No Greater Love Food Pantry made its last food distribution Dec. 30 at Abundant Grace Ministries Church in Searsmont, packed up, moved to Belfast, and passed out food boxes right on schedule just a week later on Sunday, Jan. 6.

Thanks to help from residents and staff of the Maine Coastal Regional Reentry Center, Abundant Grace Pastor Peter Sheff, volunteers, board members and builder Mike Mackridge, the pantry was able to resume operations almost flawlessly in its newly constructed home in the Belfast Veterans of Foreign Wars post.

The only hitch? "We discovered we'd set up backwards," pantry director Tanya Bormet of Washington said Monday, explaining that, as cartons slide along rollers, soft goods like bread need to go in last, not first, to avoid being flattened.

That minor issue aside, the pantry distributed food to 54 families Jan. 6, an increase of 10 to 15 families over declining December distributions while the group was preparing to move.

Bormet attributed the increase to their new location. "We're now within walking distance for some clients," she said. In total, the pantry carries 1,200 people on its rolls.

Community involvement minimized relocation costs, which were limited to $1,200 pantry operators had saved for the purpose, spent primarily for materials to build out their new space.

Sen. Erin Herbig, D-Waldo County, was helping them look for a new home after the pantry outgrew its former location. She happened to mention the problem to VFW Operations Manager Jim Roberts, who offered the lower level of the post at 34 Field St., where Heidi Blood was already operating a pet food pantry for veterans and the public.

"We were concerned about the geographic area" the pantry serves, Herbig said Dec. 21, but "it turns out many of the clients come from the Belfast area." She added that Randall Collins Post 3108 is "one of the only VFWs in the state that are growing services" to the community.

Belfast general contractor Mackridge, a South African by birth and military service who, in Roberts' words, is "part of our group," volunteered his labor, as he does with many projects for the VFW and its members. Construction to build out the new pantry space began Dec. 20 with help from Corrections Capt. Robert Walker and some Reentry Center residents.

According to Bormet, Reentry Center residents and Corrections Officer Seth Curra of Knox have been helping with weekly food pantry distributions for so long that Curra is now on the pantry board, and he and the residents orchestrated the move Dec. 30.

Abundant Grace Pastor Peter Sheff (also the county's new treasurer) provided a U-Haul, and he pitched in along with Malcolm (who lives with the Sheffs), volunteers Gary and Ralph Guindon (husband and son of board secretary Mary Guindon, all of Belfast), and the Reentry Center crew to move freezers, a refrigerator, shelving, rollers and food.

"They wouldn't let us lift a finger," said Janice Loring as she worked with sister board members New Year's Day to get set up in Belfast. "They loaded us up and moved everything down here. We're so excited to be here!"

Bormet and board members all made it a point to express their gratitude to the VFW for its generosity. "We're paying no rent," Bormet said. "We will be making a monthly donation to the VFW."

Coincidentally, food pantry director Bormet and pet food pantry director Blood are cousins, while Cindy Ludden, who runs the Jackson Food Pantry, is their aunt, and their grandfather, Robert McGray, years ago regularly gave out blocks of government cheese, canned pork and salmon, as well as eggs and milk, from Renys parking lot in Belfast.

Giving away food "is a family affair," the women agreed, laughing, as they gathered Dec. 21 for a construction kick-off event at the VFW hall.

No Greater Love Food Pantry serves people from anywhere in Waldo County and nearby towns, including Appleton and other municipalities in Knox County. Distributions are made every Sunday from 12:45 to 2 p.m. in the lower level of the VFW building at 34 Field St., Belfast.

Bormet said she is working with the VFW on their first joint fundraiser, a dinner dance tentatively scheduled for the evening of Saturday, Feb. 16. Details will follow.

Donations can be sent to No Greater Love Food Pantry, P.O. Box 244, Searsmont, ME 04973. For more information, Bormet can be reached at 299-2093.