The poor economy and high cost of healthcare and fuel on both sides of the international border are causing an increase in the number of people going to local food pantries for aid in Washington and Charlotte counties.
Whiting to close; Lubec to open food pantry
The Whiting Community Food Pantry will be closing probably in February, once a new food pantry that will serve Lubec, Trescott and Whiting residents is opened in Lubec. Residents of any other communities except those three towns were recently notified that they could no longer patronize the Whiting food pantry. Beginning on Wednesday, January 16, it will be serving only residents of those towns, and the hours have been cut back to 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.
The Whiting Community Food Pantry has been run by Dennysville residents Bill and Ann Sawtelle for many years, but he is battling cancer and his wife Ann has been working with the Lubec Community Outreach Center to find a building to start a food pantry there.
While working on returning that food pantry back to Lubec, Ann Sawtelle has had to reduce hours and the number of patrons at its current 3 Angels Community Seventh Day Adventist Church site on Route 1 in Whiting.
"There had to be some reorganization," says Sawtelle. "The majority of our families come from Lubec, but there are many others that should have been going elsewhere for food. I know there are big families, some with 10 children, who need to go to more than one food pantry, because a box of groceries doesn't last long. And I know some people are too proud to go to the food pantry in their own town."
"Bill and I have loved running the food pantry and will miss seeing everyone but, due to Bill's health condition, things finally had to change," she told her "Food Pantry Friends" in a letter. "We are so very grateful to the many dedicated volunteers that have made the monthly function of the Whiting food pantry possible. Without them donating their time, we never could have accomplished all we did. We are also very grateful to the many people who donated money, bottles/cans and food to keep the doors open."
Added demand at Machias food pantry
Ken Varian has been running the Centre Street Food Pantry in Machias since taking it over from Helen Vose one year ago. The hours have changed from 9 a.m. to 12 noon to 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Tuesdays, and it is currently serving 307 households from the communities of Machias, East Machias, Machiasport, Cutler, Bucks Harbor, Cooper, Jonesboro, Marshfield, Northfield, Roque Bluffs, Whitneyville and Wesley.
"It's been busy C with the cold weather and the poor economy -- and they were used to Helen helping them with heat," reports Varian. "We get older folks coming in who are retired, but on a fixed income and need help. There are also people who are disabled. And we get the younger people who don't have enough in their paychecks. There's a lot of the working poor in Washington County."
Residents of Dennysville and Edmunds who were clients of the Whiting food pantry will be going to Eastport, but the Whiting pantry was "even taking in families from East Machias, and they're going to have to come here. This will put a huge demand on us."
"It's impossible to gauge how many people will want our help. I think there were even some Cutler folks who went to the Whiting food pantry."
Calais food pantry 'bursting at the seams'
The Irene Chadbourne Ecumenical Food Pantry in Calais is so busy these days, food pantry board president Arthur Carter says they can't get everyone in and out when they are open on Thursdays from 10 a.m. until 12 noon. "We're running about an hour over that," he points out. "We're bursting at the seams with the number of people showing up. In addition to Calais, we accept residents of Robbinston, Charlotte, Meddybemps, Crawford, Cooper, Alexander and Baring."
"We approved three new families this week, and that adds up to about a dozen this last month," reports Carter. "We're seeing younger families coming through who are having difficulties making ends meet."
The USDA emergency food assistance program that was the source of some of the Calais food pantry's food was "drastically" reduced last year, "but we are able to get the majority of food from other sources or purchase locally," says Carter.
"We are supported by the local churches C Second Baptist, Immaculate Conception, St. Ann's Episcopal, Congregational and Methodist C so we are provided a monthly stipend and each church provides volunteers on Thursdays."
"Our need right now is for a new president," stresses Carter, who is approaching his 80th birthday. "I must retire [in January]. I've been helping here since 1996, but I live in Charlotte. They need a CEO and president who lives closer to Calais. Lenny Hanson stepped up as executive director and that was a big help. Life is a lot easier, but I'd like to retire."
Carter's other big dream is to get a financial gift large enough to pay for the installation of a fire suppression system in the apartment above the food pantry. "We used to have the apartment available for someone in need, but it's temporarily closed until we get $23,000 for the sprinkler system. I've been looking at grants, but it's a challenge to find the money."
"We're looking for a Good Samaritan out there."
Increase in clients at Woodland
An increase in clients is also occurring at the Woodland Community Food Pantry in Baileyville, reports manager Tonya Scott. "It's been busy. We're open twice a month, and we have new clients every time."
"It's mixed group," she says of the households who come in for assistance between 9 and 11 a.m. on the first and third Thursdays of the month. "There are folks not able to make ends meet. They have to choose between medications, fuel and eating."
"Several large families have moved into the area, and they started without anything," she adds. "They're looking for job opportunities, but there aren't any."
The Woodland food pantry has been open since 2003, and clients typically leave with 20 to 25 meals apiece, plus a small number of hygiene items. Scott began volunteering in 2004. "It just gets busier and busier each year."
She reports that donations are down, "but every little bit counts. Washington County residents give to the best of their ability."
"All of the food pantries in Washington County do a good job communicating with each other," she adds. "It's a really great network."
Eastport to be affected by Whiting closure
The closure of the Whiting Community Food Pantry will definitely affect the number of clients going to the Labor of Love Food Pantry in Eastport, which is open on the second and third Tuesday of the month from 9 to 11 a.m.
"There's been a pretty big increase in people coming to the food pantry because of the economy," says Fern Garrapy, longtime manager of the Labor of Love Food Pantry and Nutrition Center. "And it's going to be even busier when they start coming from the Whiting food pantry. We've got 16 from Dennysville Heights, and five other families from that area have called. I don't know how many more we'll get."
The Eastport food pantry's service area includes Dennysville and Edmunds, but they had stopped coming when the closer food pantry in Whiting began giving out food to clients who didn't live in its service area of Lubec, Trescott and Whiting.
"Right now, we have 225 households using the Eastport pantry," she points out. "And there will probably be 25 more." Other towns in the service area include Perry, Charlotte, Pembroke, Robbinston and Meddybemps.
Federal Emergency Management Agency funding for Labor of Love, which used to be as much as $4,000, is now down to $1,200, says Garrapy. "We try to fill a banana box with at least 10 meals per person when they come in, and that includes fresh meat. Right now we're desperately in need of peanut butter and jelly. We also need pasta."
Pleasant Point food pantry
St. Ann's Food Pantry is serving roughly 35 to 45 Pleasant Point families a month, according to supervisor Mary Lou Barnes.
"We've had 86 individuals come in," she reports. "A lot in our area are kids. Most of the families who utilize the pantry have six members C two adults and four children."
"The elderly comprise about 15 to 20 households," she adds. "We try to take food down to their meal site at least every other month."
Barnes has been supervising St. Ann's Food Pantry since it opened in 1999 and says it is currently open five days a week. "Donations are good. We get food from the Turkey-a-thon and through Good Shepherd Food Bank. Right now we have ample food for everybody."
Clients on Campobello now must pick up food
The five-year-old food bank on Campobello is undergoing a big change as new members of the food pantry board are now insisting that clients come to pick up their food instead of having it brought to them.
"Some of the previous board were making home deliveries," says board member Janice Watters. "We're open from 1 to 3 p.m. Mondays in the St. Anne's Church hall, and we want to impress on people that they will now have to come there for their food."
"The school held a food drive just before Christmas, and they gave us 369 pounds of food, and in a 'thank you' letter, the board said everyone coming to the food bank would receive a warm welcome, and the food will be given out in the same spirit of giving that the students had."
"We encourage people to come on Mondays and make their own food choices."
Grand Manan food pantry
Last year there were 396 visits to the food pantry on Grand Manan, which is open two afternoons a week and is operated by Action Ministries. "We're different from other food banks," says food bank coordinator Janet Collins. "Because we're a Christian ministry, we let them come in and pick out what they want. It's a far better way to handle it. Some are diabetic, or they have allergies, so they don't always want what you think they'd pick out."
The 2012 visits included 758 adults and 532 children, and they typically leave with seven or eight bags of food as well as toiletries.
The food bank, which opened in 1993, is supported by generous donations.
"Grand Mananers certainly look after themselves," sums up Collins.
Donations are welcome
Addresses or contacts for the area food banks are as follows: Campobello Food Pantry, St. Anne's Anglican Church hall, Welshpool, Campobello, NB E5E 1G3; Centre Street Food Pantry, 9 Centre Street, Machias, ME 04654; Deer Island Food Bank, 30 Richardson Road, Richardson, NB E5V 1S5; Grand Manan Food Bank, Action Ministries, 70 Red Point Road, Grand Manan, NB E5G 4J2; Irene Chadbourne Ecumenical Food Pantry, 513 Main Street, Calais, ME 04619; Labor of Love Food Pantry, 137 County Road, Eastport, ME 04631; St. Ann's Food Pantry, 9 Sakom Road, Passamaquoddy Tribal Building, Pleasant Point, ME 04667; Woodland Community Food Pantry, 55 Broadway Street, Baileyville, ME 04694.