For 35 years, Boothbay Region Food Pantry has been helping residents in need, and the number served has grown each decade. The service includes distributing holiday meals for Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter.
This year’s Christmas baskets were distributed at the pantry Dec. 18 and a few more on Dec. 21. Co-President Fleet Davies reported 120 families received baskets this year, each one put together based on the number of people in the household. The baskets included three side dish recipes: candied yams, split pea soup and creamed spinach, and their major ingredients.
Each family chose either ham and pineapple or chicken, with potatoes, corn, peas, carrots, raisins, brown ’n serve dinner rolls, brownie mix, trail mix, macaroni and cheese, as Davies said, “’cause everyone likes mac ’n cheese”; cans of fruit; spinach, French fried onion rings, boxed milk, applesauce, apples, onions, brown sugar and marshmallows.
This year, the pantry’s 24-member board dealt with a completely new set of issues due to COVID-19, including how the pantry receives its donations. Davies said 10 % of the food is donated by the USDA. That has not changed. Food is also left in the pantry’s donation box outside Congregational Church of Boothbay Harbor, and Good Shepherd Food Bank still helps stock the shelves.
Davies noted a local “food connection”: “For decades Hannaford has been, and is, wonderful to us – twice a week, year-round, donating produce, meat, eggs, milk. We used to (pre-COVID) be able to give Hannaford a purchase order for 30-50 cases of food items, but the store hasn’t been able to continue it since COVID-19.”
Now board members do the shopping. Davies said they usually need five grocery carts. The pantry also shops at Walmart. The pantry receives produce from two Damariscotta farms – Veggies to Table and Twin Villages Food Bank Farm. Davies said this will end in a few weeks, but all summer and fall, the freshest vegetables have been donated for local families and students to enjoy.
The pantry shares the bounty with The Community Center, Food 4 Thought, Edgecomb Eddy School, Boothbay Region YMCA’s after school program and, when there is enough, Southport Central School.
Another COVID-19-related issue is how to continue the Friday distributions. Families could not be in the pantry and check out what unused foods were available. Initially, the board pre-prepared boxes of food, with vouchers, for pick up at the door.
In April, clients filled out a grocery list in the parking lot, brought it to the church office door and held it up to the glass. A photo was taken of the list by a volunteer, then was transferred to the pantry’s computer, printed, and the order filled. Pick up was on an outside table. In September, the procedure changed to the way still being used today: Regular clients are contacted on Monday and Tuesday for their Friday orders. All pick ups are done within specific time frames. Then, the board decided to allow two families, at staggered times. When one family’s order was half done, the next family went into the pantry. For all the guidelines, visit https://sites.google.com/site/boothbayregionfoodpantry
The Friday distributions, which had been Wednesdays since Jan. 8, 1992, on average serve 120 families per month. Davies estimated Friday distributions, with all orders boxed Wednesdays and Thursdays, range from 60 to 100 boxes.
“The response from the community isn’t only in donations or products, many people call to volunteer,” said Davies. “They just want to help.”
New volunteers are always welcomed by the board. Davies noted a high percentage of the board’s current members are 62 to 85 years old. Some have stepped back a bit, working behind the scenes rather than on the front line; for example, they are not necessarily working the pantry’s open hours on Fridays from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. or wheeling around Hannaford with one or more grocery carts. They will be among the volunteers packing the holiday and weekly meal boxes.
From March to September, there was a 50% decrease in orders. Davies said board members spoke with these clients to find out why. “Some didn’t want to leave their homes at all, while others didn’t want to come to the pantry – period,” Davies said. “Lots of families were having trouble getting to the pantry because their cars were in need of repair; or the client had a disability and no one to drive them to the pantry.”
There was a slow but steady increase in families requesting delivery of their groceries. During the early months of COVID-19, Davies said between two and five families per month needed food delivered. December’s average has been 15-20 deliveries per week. As of Christmas week, Davies said 60 deliveries had been made this month.
“My expectation is there will continue to be a lot of people needing the food pantry’s help,” Davies said. “We’re here – and we’re ready!”
For more information, visit the pantry’s Facecbook page, email email@example.com, or call 207-350-2962.