BATH — They weren’t thinking about Thanksgiving, that day of feast and excess, when they arrived by the dozens at Grace Episcopal Church on Tuesday. They were thinking beyond that, to the days and weeks between now and Christmas. They were thinking about how to keep their cupboards, refrigerators and bellies full until then.
Once every month, a food truck parks in the back lot of the church about a mile from the center of Bath. The sides roll up. Volunteers spread the food out on tables. Fresh produce. Bread. Frozen chicken.
Unlike food trucks that serve gourmet cooked meals, this one is a food bank, supplying those in need with the food they’ll need to get through the lean days.
Everyone who comes gets a number for a place in line. In groups of 10, they go through the line, filling their bags or their boxes or their wheeled carts with food. They can take as much as they want, no questions asked.
Kimberly Gates runs the operation, but it belongs to the community, she said.
“I’m just so grateful that people come,” she said.
Donna Young has been coming for the last four months. She’s been retired for three years. Her husband is deceased.
“It was getting hard to survive on my retirement,” Young, 67, of Woolwich, said while waiting for her turn to go through the line. “I’m not proud. I worked my whole life. All the people I’ve met so far, no one is here out of greed.”
Jeneatha Morse heard about the food truck from a friend. She grew up on the midcoast and moved back recently after spending several years in New Jersey. She stood in line with her 18-month-old daughter, Colby, who said hi to anyone in her line of sight.
“I only take what I need,” said Morse, 27. “There are a lot of people who need more than me.”
Good Shepherd Food-Bank, which supplies the food, approached Gates about seven years ago about a food truck. They noticed a growing need in the Bath area. Could she help?
Gates also runs the Bath Area Food Bank, which consists of a pantry, soup kitchen and clothing exchange, so she already knew plenty about the need.
In the first few years, the trucks were intermittent. The need was not.
“I wanted to do more, but the funds were tough,” Gates said. “In this type of business, everyone fights for the same dollars.”
She went to her church, Grace Episcopal, which agreed to provide funds for three trucks. The church has been a partner ever since. The Rev. Michael Ambler Jr. said it’s an easy thing to support.
Many of the volunteers, Gates said, never miss a truck.
Others have stepped forward with their support, too. Two area schools – Morse High and Hyde School – have “sponsored” food trucks for the past two years. The cost to operate each monthly truck is about $1,000, but the food itself has a value of nearly $7,000.
Maria Morris, who runs the Jobs for Maine Graduates Program at Morse, said the students tackle a philanthropy project as part of their curriculum. The kids have a set amount of money and they decide where to donate it. This year, the students decided to help fund a local skate park and provide the rest to the food truck operations.
“Part of that meant coming down to see what they invested in,” said Morris, who was joined by seven students. “But they’re also developing skills that no one really teaches.”
The students acted as couriers, carrying the heavy boxes of food for some of the older clients.
“Are you sure it’s not too heavy?” one woman asked a female student, who just smiled and said no.
On most food truck days, especially when it’s cold, the church building is open. On Tuesday, when the food truck made its monthly run, a friend of Gates volunteered to make homemade cinnamon buns. The church brewed coffee and hot chocolate. The clients gathered inside while they waited their turn to pick up food items. Gates walked around talking to many of them. She knew several by name. One man was wearing a thin coat. Gates told him to come to the food bank later and she’d find him a warmer one.
On its busiest days, the mobile food truck serves about 300 families. On Tuesday, 238 came through.
Even after all have filled their bag, their box or their cart, sometimes there is still food left. It never goes to waste.
“If people are willing to wait,” Gates said, “we’ll let them go through a second time.”
Eric Russell can be contacted at 791-6344 or at: