SANFORD — A nonprofit agency that supplies food to soup kitchens and food pantries in York County will continue to operate despite its eviction from a warehouse in Sanford at the end of this month, its director said Tuesday.

After two weeks of scrambling to find a new home for York County Food Rescue, Director Jodi Bissonnette secured donated space this week to store pallets of food while she looks for a permanent home.

Bissonnette assured food pantry volunteers Tuesday as they arrived for their final pickups of food from the warehouse that has been home to the agency for years.

“The warehouse has never been this empty before,” Bissonnette told a volunteer who had just arrived to pick up pallets of food. But don’t worry, she said, “we get the food out no matter what happens.”

Bissonnette said that while she has to raise money for the move and still needs a permanent home, she is optimistic that there will be no disruption in service.

Two weeks ago, she wasn’t so certain that her agency could keep distributing food uninterrupted after being evicted from its warehouse on Jagger Mill Road. The uncertainty worried smaller agencies throughout the county that rely on York County Food Rescue to provide food to residents who need help.

“Without us, it would be a catastrophe. I can’t picture York County not having food rescue,” Bissonnette said.

The program collects donated food from grocery stores and other sources, and food supplied by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and distributes it to 47 organizations in the county, from food pantries and soup kitchens to programs for veterans. Last year, it gave out 1.2 million pounds of food.

York County Food Rescue, which has operated for eight years, used the warehouse rent-free when it was owned by York County Shelter Programs. The nonprofit program must leave because it couldn’t reach an agreement to lease the space from the building’s new owners, Brenda and Jim Scally of Jagger Mill LLC.

In an emailed statement, Brenda Scally said Jagger Mill LLC bought the property two years ago. Under the terms of the purchase agreement, it let the food rescue program use the space rent-free during the term of the mortgage. The mortgage was discharged on Oct. 5, 2012.

“Although we were under no obligation to allow the York County Food Rescue to remain in the premises, great efforts were made to negotiate a lease to no avail,” Scally said in the statement. Habitat for Humanity and Military Surplus for Veterans will remain in the building.

While Scally said the need to move should not have surprised the food rescue program, Bissonnette said she thought they were still negotiating a lease when the eviction papers arrived.

She had two weeks to empty the warehouse of food and disassemble shelving and freezers, creating uncertainty about what would happen next. Food pantries and soup kitchens were to pick up their April deliveries on Tuesday and Wednesday, a week ahead of schedule.

Bissonnette notified pantries that the May distribution is expected to be on schedule because the York County commissioners offered the agency an empty building in Alfred for temporary storage.

“When we heard that the food rescue program was being evicted, we immediately reached out to them and offered them our vacant building,” said County Manager Gregory Zinser. “The food rescue program provides a critical resource for the food pantries within York County. To have the program cease would be a detriment to all of York County.”

Bissonnette said she has several leads on permanent locations for the program and expects to announce the new location this week.

Volunteers from food pantries and soup kitchens who picked up food on Tuesday said they were relieved to hear that the program would continue uninterrupted.

Sherry Tysver, director of the Always Enough Soup Kitchen in Sanford, said her program relies on the food rescue program to feed an average of 40 people per night. If the food rescue program closed, it would “tremendously” affect her ability to serve hungry people.

“This is basically how we survive,” Tysver said as volunteers loaded a pickup truck with food for the soup kitchen. “It’s our lifeline.”

Though she is relieved to have the temporary location, Bissonnette said she is “very worried” about the expense of setting up shop again. The agency will collect contributions to help pay the moving costs and hire an electrician to hook up the walk-in freezers.

She hopes people in York County are willing to help by donating or volunteering their time.

“By helping us get re-established, they’re helping everyone in the community,” Bissonnette said.

 

Gillian Graham can be contacted at 791-6315 or at:

ggraham@pressherald.com

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