Rotary members in Winthrop will work Saturday to end hunger in fitting fashion – by having a feast.
The Winthrop Area Rotary Foundation, the nonprofit branch of the Winthrop Area Rotary Club, has organized the third annual Family Barbecue & Gumbo Festival to End Hunger to help people who can’t afford food for themselves and their families.
Organizers say there’s been a significant increase in the number of people seeking help each month. At the local food pantry, the need has grown from 40 families a month in 2011 to 110 families a month in 2014, said JoEllen Cottrell, executive director of the Winthrop Food Pantry.
There are a total of 300 families on the food pantry’s roster, about 90 percent of whom live in Winthrop.
“Last week in one day we served 39 families,” Cottrell said. “Our numbers have tripled since I came on.”
Craig Hickman, chairman of the Rotary Foundation, said all the money from Saturday’s fundraiser will go toward hunger relief. Hickman, a Democratic state lawmaker, said the need has never been greater.
“We gauge hunger by people that show up to get food,” Hickman said this week as he smoked meat outside his Annabessacook Farm in preparation for the barbecue. “We’ve seen the numbers rise of people who are accessing these services.”
Hickman, who is on the board of directors of the Winthrop Hot Meals Kitchen at St. Francis Parish Hall on Greenwood Terrace, said the kitchen has been “swamped” for the meals it serves on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The soup kitchen serves anyone, regardless of where they live. Hickman said people come from across the region, including Greene and Leeds to the west and Augusta to the east.
“We didn’t used to serve in the summer at all, but we felt we had to,” Hickman said. “Pretty much, all the towns that surround here, people use the soup kitchen.”
Not only are there more people, but the circumstances of those who need food are changing. The need has expanded beyond those who don’t have jobs. Hickman said many of those who use the Winthrop Food Pantry and the soup kitchen now have jobs that do not pay enough to cover their bills food.
“They need help making ends meet,” Hickman said. “It’s seniors and children; even the number of veterans is rising.”
NATIONAL NUMBERS GROW
At the food pantry, from one to five new families sign up every week, Cottrell said. Families can return once a month. Some families only come back a couple of times a year, when they are in a bind, and others need help every month.
“It’s continuing to grow,” Cottrell said. “I keep thinking it will stop, but it hasn’t. It’s an age-old problem. There just seems to be more of it.”
Earlier this year, a food pantry in East Winthrop closed after Hannaford supermarkets, which supplied much of the food, instituted a new policy that it would distribute food only to pantries affiliated with the Good Shepherd Food-Bank. At the time, more than 100 local families were using the pantry run by the East Winthrop Baptist Church.
Cottrell helped establish a peer group of food pantry directors that has attracted about 28 people who work in pantries throughout the region. They get together four times a year.