Volunteers at East Winthrop Baptist Church’s Food Ministry say news that the pantry may have to close because of a policy shift by Hannaford supermarkets has sparked an outcry – and donations – from the public.

Dean Finley, director of the church’s food ministry, said Friday that people have called to make donations and voice support for the pantry, which has been operating for 22 years. The potential closing was first reported by the Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel.

“We’ve had some really good feedback from the community,” Finley said. “The phones have been ringing off the hook.”

Pastor Samuel Richards said the ministry has received “substantial” offers to help, including at least one offer of potentially thousands of dollars.

“We’ve never had a donation like that,” he said.

What it all means to the ministry’s future remains to be seen. Richards said he and the volunteers will take a wait-and-see approach to deciding how to move forward. He is not counting on Hannaford executives to change their minds about limiting food donations to only those pantries that are affiliated with Good Shepherd Food Bank.

“We expect God will take care of the hungry with Hannaford or without Hannaford, and we’re OK with that,” Richards said. “I’ve had 22 great years. I’m very grateful. The locals at Hannaford have been compassionate and kind. I can’t say enough good about them.”

Hannaford earlier this year notified the church and other food programs in Maine that its stores would no longer donate food to food pantries that are not affiliated with Good Shepherd.

Hannaford spokesman Eric Blom said this week the decision was made in an effort to reduce the amount of food going to waste at the stores because of the difficulty in scheduling pickups with pantries. Blom said the company hopes working with Good Shepherd’s system of food banks would help with scheduling and lead to less wasted food.

East Winthrop’s food ministry has opted previously to remain independent of Good Shepherd because of philosophical differences regarding bookkeeping and food distribution procedures. Good Shepherd, citing those differences, announced this week it rejected the church’s application.

Good Shepherd’s decision means the East Winthrop food ministry, which collected food seven days a week from Hannaford stores in Winthrop and Augusta, will likely be cut off next week.

Augusta resident Sherry Truppa read of the potential closing on the Kennebec Journal website Thursday night and decided she wanted to help.

“When I read that (Thursday) night it literally brought tears to my eyes,” Truppa said, taking a moment to collect her emotions. “It still does.”

Friday morning she and her daughter Katie went to the Walmart in Augusta planning to buy as much food as they could to donate to the East Winthrop pantry. Truppa, who is acquainted with Walmart store manager Gerald Tyler, explained to him what she was doing.

“He’s a wonderful man,” Truppa said. “I told him what I was doing and asked if there was anything he could do to help. He said, ‘I’ll match it.’ ”

The Truppas filled two grocery carts full of fresh produce and meat. Tyler covered the bill, which totaled $140.

Truppa, who said she didn’t even know there was a food pantry in East Winthrop, said she knows what it is like to struggle. She hopes giving the food will relieve some of the burden someone else is carrying.

“I hugged her and prayed with her and broke down crying, if you want to know the truth,” Finley said. “I was so moved by it. Something like this happens, that’s when good people come out from the shadows and say, ‘We’re going to help.’ ”

Finley said he had received a $150 donation that also would help bridge the gap.

“I’ll spend it at Walmart for food,” he said. “That’s the best I can do.”

Richards on Friday received notification of Good Shepherd’s decision and the reasons for the food bank’s rejection. Good Shepherd listed six characteristics it seeks to have in partner agencies, including:

An intake process to determine household needs.

Richards said the church has chosen to respect its clients’ privacy and dignity. He said the church believes the Good Shepherd process is “a shaming procedure.”

A means of distributing food proportionate to household needs.

The church allows those who come to take as much food as they feel they need rather than allocating a certain amount based on family size.

Providing enough food to serve every person in the house for six to nine meals.

The church distributes food twice a week and people can come as often as they like.

An adequate supply of quality food to serve the need reliably and consistently.

Richards said there have been times of abundance and times when food was scarce, but the ministry gives whatever food it can.

 

Craig Crosby can be contacted at 621-5643 or at:

ccrosby@centralmaine.com