BINGHAM — Food supplies are being allowed to run down at the Bingham Area Food Pantry as
it prepares to close at the end of the month.

The pantry has been housed in the rectory at St. Peter Church for 33 years, but the church is selling the building. After about a year of searching, the pantry hasn’t found a new location that meets its needs. It will close on Aug. 31.

“(The pantry) was a help,” said Louise Carl, the pantry’s coordinator. “It was a hand up. The people who came, they came regularly and they were so happy to get the extra things we gave them.”

The pantry, which was founded by Carl in 1981, is the only one in Somerset County that delivers food to homes. Most of those who use its services are elderly and disabled and live in rural areas, including Pleasant Ridge, Caratunk and The Forks.

It serves about 40 families and is housed in the basement of the rectory of St. Peter Church on Owens Street. About a year ago the church decided to sell the rectory when the nun who was living there retired.

The pantry is not affiliated with the church, and it would cost $5,200 to keep the house maintained and heated year-round, according to the Rev. John Mazzei, the parish pastor. Mazzei said continuing to keep the building open does not make sense.

“The food pantry is in the basement in a very bad place to have a food pantry, and we don’t have the money to keep the house going with no one living there,” said Mazzei. “If the town of Bingham can’t help them find another place, it’s just kind of sad. It’s sad when you have something that helps the people of the area, and no one wants to help out.”

There are a number of challenges facing food pantries, including the consolidation of several area Catholic churches, many of which have traditionally housed food banks and food pantries, said Wanda Steward, coordinator for The Emergency Food Assistance Program in Kennebec and Somerset counties.

“Some of them are relocating,” said Steward. “It may not be the best locations for them, but they’re dealing with what they have. I don’t know of any that have actually closed, but there are a lot that are on the verge of it. It is a big issue.”

In Fairfield, the Interfaith Food Pantry struggled to find a new home and the funding to stay open after the Immaculate Heart of Mary Church on High Street closed in 2011. The pantry has temporarily relocated to another church and is in the process of raising $100,000 for a new building.

And in Waterville, a soup kitchen that operated out of St. Francis de Sales Church on Elm Street had to relocate to Silver Street when the church was torn down in 2013.

The rectory closing follows a consolidation in 2007 of the Bingham parish with Catholic churches in Madison and Skowhegan, which are now part of Christ the King parish.

“The problem with Bingham is it’s a smaller town. They’re looking for someone to house the food bank, let them stay there for free, and pay the electric and heat. In some bigger towns the town helps support the food bank or they get funding or grants, but when you have a smaller food bank there just aren’t that many options,” said Steward.

There are 38 pantries in Kennebec and Somerset counties registered with the assistance program, which distributes food provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The federal program makes food available to anyone, although most municipalities have regulations in place that prevent other food obtained either from donations, other programs or grants from being distributed to non-residents.

“With so many people using food banks and a shortage of available food, each town has set rules,” said Steward. “For the most part people from Bingham cannot just show up at another food bank asking for food.”

Carl said the food pantry staff, all of whom are volunteers, have been looking for a place to relocate for the last year but have had no luck.

The group has also explored the possibility of using the local town office, but it doesn’t have the storage capacity and is too public a place to host a food pantry, she said.

“People don’t want to go to a public place where everyone can see them and say, ‘Oh, you’re going to get your food,'” she said.