Have you thrown away any food this week? Do you have several boxes of “oven ready” packaged products up in the cupboard, that you bought on sale and haven’t used? Are there two or three jars of peanut butter and jelly unopened? Well, there are people in Windham who could use this food. We have a lot of residents who live on less per month than many people earn in a week.

Windham has had a food pantry available to the community for many years. Given the reported median income and the continuing development in town, it might not appear that there would be a need for a food pantry.

But things are not always as they seem, and in Windham, the food pantry has seen a tremendous increase in customers in the last year, while at the same time, donations have decreased.

Annual food drives at schools and by youth groups, and regular donations from area churches, service organizations and individuals have helped sustain the pantry through the years. And each year, the all-volunteer workers on the Human Services Committee come to the budget table and ask the Windham Town Council for an amount which they use to purchase milk, eggs, hamburg and margarine – the items which go into the “cold” bag. This year, they’ve had to ask for more than usual – an increase in their budget, to meet the increased need.

Customers of the food pantry may visit once a month and if they qualify, they will receive at no cost, three paper grocery bags full, including the cold bag. The others include soups, peanut butter, and canned goods including tuna, fruit, vegetables and perhaps another protein product. Other staples fill the bag. Sometimes there is a selection of bread and pastry products. From time to time, local farmers donate squash and potatoes, during the harvest season.

Windham Food Pantry workers say that the monthly amount given might last an individual a week or a family for a couple of days “if they didn’t eat much.” They strive to provide high-protein, healthy products.

Government-surplus foods, once a dependable source for the pantry, have decreased. It’s thought that some of these products have been diverted to the victims of our recent natural disasters.

In order to save money and still serve their customers, the Human Services Committee has discontinued purchasing jelly or packaged macaroni and cheese, which had been longtime staples.

From their report to the Council, it appears that during the holidays (Thanksgiving and Christmas), thanks to the generosity of individuals and companies, they have been able to provide full dinners to all who needed them. But it is the day to day, month after month, routine of keeping food on the shelves which has the committee concerned.

There’s no easy answer as to why the need has increased, and donations have decreased, but one reason may be the high cost of fuel and gasoline. Another reason for the increase is the economy in general.

Whatever the reason, the food pantry would welcome financial donations as well as donations of non-perishable food products such as packaged ready-to-prepare foods, soups, protein products like peanut butter, canned meat and fish, stews, canned fruits and vegetables, cereal and pasta.

Some of your neighbors right here in Windham could use your help. Sponsor a community food collection project. Clean out your cupboards and set aside a box of non-perishables for the food pantry. Dig into your pocket and make a financial donation. Or, as they do in some communities, plant a row for the hungry when you do your garden this year.

You can visit the Food Pantry from 5:30 to 7 p.m. on Monday evenings or if you’re a senior citizen, on Thursday mornings from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m.

For donations: Checks should be made out to “Windham Human Services Committee” or “Windham Food Pantry.” They can be left in the town manager’s office at town hall, or mailed to Windham Food Pantry, 8 School Road, Windham, ME 04062.

To get information on the pantry, call 892-1931. They have an answering machine and are very good about returning calls.

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