EAST WINTHROP — Volunteers at a food pantry that serves more than 100 local families say a decision by Hannaford supermarkets to donate only to specific organizations is forcing it to close after more than 20 years.

Samuel Richards, pastor of East Winthrop Baptist Church, said Hannaford’s new policy to donate only to food pantries affiliated with Good Shepherd Food Bank means the East Winthrop’s food ministry will lose its source of food. The ministry’s application to become a Good Shepherd affiliated food pantry was rejected this week.

“It’s a really sad day for the hungry,” Richards said. “We had bread, vegetables, fruit. They won’t get that anymore.”

Hannaford spokesman Eric Blom said the supermarket chain made the decision to reduce the amount of wasted meat and produce. Difficulty in scheduling timely pickups with food pantries has led to food, particularly meat, remaining at stores past its expiration date, meaning it must be thrown out.

“We’re working with Good Shepherd and its extensive network to rescue that food,” Blom said. “They have a very robust network in central Maine and throughout Maine.”

Dean Finley, director of the East Winthrop food ministry, said he was notified of Hannaford’s decision in December.

On Tuesday, he announced to the roughly 50 people who came for food that the pantry is shutting down.

“I think the only thing that hurt me as bad is when I lost my sister to cancer,” Finley said.

The news was greeted with sadness and uncertainty among ministry food recipients.

Nancy Michaud of Chelsea says she has a disability, but because she continues to work she does not qualify for subsidized housing or food assistance.

“This is it,” she said. “There are weeks I can’t get any food on my table and these guys help me. I don’t know what I’m going to do.”

POLICY BRINGS STRUCTURE

Blom said local stores will continue to give directly to nearby pantries affiliated with Good Shepherd.

Good Shepherd, which distributes food to about 600 agencies across the state, is working with its partners in the area to redistribute the food that was funneled to East Winthrop Baptist Church.

JoEllen Cottrell, executive director of the Winthrop Food Pantry on High Street, said it will pick up produce at the Winthrop Hannaford once a week. The pantry, which serves about 100 families in Winthrop and Wayne, has offered produce for years and began offering meat a few months ago, but that has previously meant a trip to Good Shepherd’s food distribution center in Auburn.

Blom said the policy change has been some time in the making. Hannaford’s parent company, Delhaize America, has a contract with Feeding America. Good Shepherd is Feeding America’s partner in Maine.

Good Shepherd spokeswoman Clara Whitney said limiting donations to partner agencies will bring structure to the company’s donating process.

“By limiting donations to the Feeding America network they can get reports on how much they are donating and know it’s being handled safely,” Whitney said.

The policy change was to take effect March 1, but Finley said the deadline was extended at East Winthrop until connections could be made with other pantries.

But Finley said all of his pantry’s food has come from Hannaford in Winthrop and Augusta. Other stores, like Walmart and Shaw’s, already have established connections with other organizations.

“There’s really nowhere else to go,” Finley said. “We’ve been in partnership with them for 22 years.”

NO QUESTIONS ASKED

Whitney said 12 organizations have applied for Good Shepherd partnerships as a result of the Hannaford policy switch. Two have been rejected, two others approved and two are in the process of being approved, Whitney said. The other six applications are under review. Whitney wouldn’t say why East Winthrop’s application was rejected.

“Good Shepherd Food Bank is committed to ending hunger in Maine,” Whitney said. “In order to do that, we know we have to work with the most effective partner agencies. We have other partnerships in the area. We feel those are effective local partners.”

Finley said Thursday he was still awaiting a letter from Good Shepherd explaining the rejection, but based on phone conversations, Finley said it appears Good Shepherd believes East Winthrop distributes food unfairly. Rather than allocating food based on family size, East Winthrop has historically encouraged those seeking help to take as much food as they need.

East Winthrop ministry’s less restrictive policies have proven effective, Richards said. People occasionally may take more than they need, Richards admits, but it’s rare.

“We don’t care what your politics are, what we care about is you’re here and you’re hungry and we want to feed you,” Richards said. “We believe that Jesus would have us feed the hungry. We try to do what Jesus wants us to do.”

Craig Crosby can be contacted at 621-5642 or at:

ccrosby@centralmaine.com

Twitter: @CraigCrosby4