March 12, 2010

Sprucing up food-pantry warehouse

DEBORAH SAYER

— By

Staff Writer

Each new year affords a chance to put a fresh face on things. The Wayside Soup Kitchen Food Rescue Program in Portland recently got a little help in that area.

The food distribution center received a personal makeover, courtesy of Lowe's Home Improvement Store's Heroes program.

''Lowe's employees (at Brighton Avenue) selected us to be a recipient,'' said Jeff Estabrook, Wayside's executive director. ''Tim Morse, our food rescue program director, went there hoping to solicit a couple of cans of floor paint. He was going to do the job himself. But Shane (Eichner, a Lowe's manager) came back and said 'We might be able to do more.'''

Eichner, a community liaison for Lowe's, said one of the best aspects of his job is coordinating donations for local charities. He said Morse approached him just before Thanksgiving with a request for floor paint to spruce up the warehouse and make it more aesthetically appealing to potential food distribution companies who might donate to the program.

The food rescue was started in 1999 as an overflow distribution operation for the Wayside meals program. It redistributes food overages from about 25 food manufacturers and distributors, including Barber Foods, Hannaford Brothers Co., Sysco of Northern New England and Hood Milk to almost 40 food pantries, shelters and soup kitchens in Greater Portland.

''We have a small donation budget of about $100 per month,'' said Eichner. ''But annually the company gives a budget of about $1,200 to all the stores through the Lowe's Heroes program. This allows us to pinpoint a specific need in the community we're serving that would impact the most people and show that we are part of the community. I called (Tim) back and said 'not only can I do that but do you have a wish list?'''

''So, we drafted a letter,'' said Estabrook. ''Shane and two store managers met us for a tour of the facility and we put together a punch list of needs. Then, they came back with a budget.''

As part of the job, the warehouse's formerly gray floors were power-washed, then painted red. The walls were coated with a cheery shade of yellow and an office area was constructed to give Morse a place to meet with other pantry organizers and donors to the program.

''Tim does a lot of coordinating and was working on one little desk by a door,'' said Eichner. ''I said, 'With all the work this man does, he really needs an office.' We built a 30-foot-by-15-or-20-foot office space.''

Lowe's staffers contributed the labor for the nearly weeklong job, assisted by food rescue volunteers and inmates from the Cumberland County Jail's day release program.

''This was a real godsend to us,'' said Estabrook. ''Shane put out the call (to fellow Lowe's workers) and they answered it. They came in on their days off. I offered to buy the paint rollers, but Shane was very proactive about the whole thing and wanted to make it so that we'd be the beneficiaries and not have to spend money. (The work) will help make the warehouse a top-notch space. The office looks spectacular.''

''I didn't realize how many food pantries there were in Cumberland County or how much food they move through that storehouse,'' said Eichner. ''We worked there during Thanksgiving time and, at the time, oil prices were really high. Tim said, 'we're going to need this food now more than ever. For some people, it's the choice between food or heat.'''

And moving all that food made it a bit tricky to coordinate renovation work. Eichner said the project is not yet completed.

''We still need to hang some Sheetrock for one wall, mud and paint it. The space is used as a meeting place for other food pantry organizers. Doing all that work requires a ton of coordination and (our work) helps them to be more efficient. From a personal standpoint, this was an eye-opening experience that I really enjoyed.''

Staff Writer Deborah Sayer can be contacted at 791-6308 or at:

dsayer@pressherald.com

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