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Call for volunteers

Waldo County food pantries see surge in demand amid pandemic

By Kendra Caruso | Mar 31, 2020
Photo by: Kendra Caruso Sue Crane, right, rolls food boxes down a conveyor belt at the Jackson Food Pantry March 23.

Waldo County — Several Waldo County food pantries are experiencing an increase in the number of residents using their services since the coronavirus pandemic put employees in several industries out of work.

Cindy Ludden of the Jackson Food Pantry implemented a drive-through system that delivers boxes of food to people’s cars rather than having them come into the Community Building. She said March 23 the pantry had several new applicants and served 85 cars in two hours.

Ludden said normally people would be able to choose what food they wanted, as in a grocery store, but starting this week volunteers brought boxes of food to cars and allowed people to make their selections that way.

“I hate the idea of someone getting something they don’t want,” she said. “It’s a waste.”

She said she wants to save as much food as possible in case there is a shortage of donations. Waldo County Emergency Management Agency Director Dale Rowley said 40% of food pantries in the state are reporting an increase in the numbers they serve.

Good Shepherd Food Bank, based in Auburn, was able to fill Ludden’s order this week, but she said she worries that, as the pandemic continues, the organization's food supply might dwindle.

Communications Manager Jessica Donahue said Good Shepherd gets about 70% of its food donations from retailers, and that figure is expected to fall to zero as grocery stores struggle to keep up with demand.

She said the organization is stocking up on non-perishable goods and seeking more fruits and vegetables from local farmers. It announced a partnership with L.L. Bean and its employees recently to pack 10,000 emergency boxes per week for Maine communities in the greatest need, she said.

Some food pantries have closed down completely for the duration of the crisis, and those are the communities where the boxes will help the most, Donahue said.

“We are identifying communities in need,” she wrote in an email. “We are tracking food pantries that are temporarily suspending their services or changing their distribution schedule to identify communities that have a gap in food access.”

Declining volunteers

Good Shepherd is experiencing a decrease in volunteers, which it expected, according to Donahue. She said the food bank is still taking volunteers, but it has implemented a new screening test to minimize exposure to COVID-19.

Rowley said 72% of pantries statewide are experiencing a drop in their numbers of volunteers and 25% are seeing a decrease in donations.

Raelee Heath of Crossroads Food Pantry, which is run out of the Crossroads to Calvary Church in Morrill, reduced the number of volunteers to just herself and one other person to pack and carry boxes out to people as they arrive. She said the food pantry has served 15 extra families every week since the pandemic started.

“People need food,” she said, “they just need food. And we try to be as safe as possible and with people out of work there’s just going to be a greater need.”

Her food pantry has increased its activities to weekly distributions and she said she has received calls daily for emergency boxes since the virus has spread. She said people are also looking for information and resources about certain services affected by COVID-19.

Neighbors Cupboard Inc. in Winterport is seeking teenagers and young adults to volunteer, according to Phylis Allen. She said most of the existing volunteers are those most at risk for contracting the virus.

The food pantry set up a drive-through service similar to what other pantries are currently doing, but she said she is still concerned that it might be too risky to some vulnerable volunteers' health.

Ludden said the Jackson pantry has not yet experienced a decrease in volunteers. She said her volunteers are all committed to serving people in a time when it is needed most.

Luke Bickford, 13, is one of her youngest volunteers. He said he volunteers most weeks, when he can get rides, and hopes to continue to volunteer for the duration of the pandemic. He said food cupboards are good for those who are most at risk from the virus and cannot go into stores.

“I think it’s great to help the community,” he said, “and I thought if I was here it would be another set of hands.”

Crossroads Food Pantry is accepting cash donations at crossroadstocalvary.com. Cash donations can be made to the Jackson Food Cupboard on its Facebook page, Jackson Food Pantry Auction.

 

Luke Bickford packs food boxes at the Jackson Food Pantry March 23 to deliver to cars outside during the coronavirus pandemic. (Photo by: Kendra Caruso)
Cindy Ludden tracks people going through the Jackson Food Pantry March 23. The pantry is using a temporary drive-through service to reduce contact with the coronavirus. (Photo by: Kendra Caruso)
Karen Hudgins, right, packs food boxes inside the Jackson Community Center for the Jackson Food Pantry March 23 to be delivered to cars waiting outside. (Photo by: Kendra Caruso)
Food boxes sit on tables outside the Jackson Community Center to be distributed to cars by the Jackson Food Pantry March 23 in an effort to reduce contact with the coronavirus. (Photo by: Kendra Caruso)
Raelee Heath writes names as she distributes boxes of food to people in cars at the Crossroads Food Cupboard in Morrill March 25. Pantries have seen increased demand for food in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo by: Kendra Caruso)
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