Food pantries are as in need of donations right now as they have ever been. In what is almost certainly a sign of a troubled economy, food pantries in southern Maine are reporting that demand for assistance is nearly double what it was last year.

At this time last year, the Scarborough Food Pantry was assisting about 40 families per month. This year, according to Ellen Parenteau, head of the pantry, 80 families are seeking assistance on a monthly basis.

Workers at other food banks told similar stories. In Bridgton, the number has jumped from 40 to 75. With Thanksgiving still a week away, requests for holiday food baskets were already well ahead of last year. In Old Orchard Beach, for example, the Salvation Army was trying to keep up with applications for its Thanksgiving food baskets, after already having received 100 more than last year.

The types of people seeking relief are also different this year. It’s no longer just the elderly and single parents who are struggling to keep up with expenses, say food pantry workers. Many young couples and families are also looking for help this year. Some are having troubling keeping up with rising costs, some are facing a home foreclosure and some have lost their jobs.

But one of the great things about Maine is that when people need help, neighbors are often quick to offer their assistance. So far, it appears this year will be no different. Many food pantries are also reporting an increase in donations.

Many individuals are making big contributions. Just in Westbrook, for example, Tim Layne, who works for a local construction company, CCB Inc., made phone calls to 50 local businesses asking for $100 donations when he heard the Westbrook Food Pantry might need some assistance raising money for Thanksgiving food baskets. Almost all of the businesses Layne contacted agreed to pitch in, and he was able to raise more than $4,000.

If everyone in Maine donated $100 to hunger relief, food pantry shelves would be stocked for years to come. However, since many people don’t have that much to give and other social service agencies are also in need, many food banks welcome donations of food, as well. Something lingering in the back of a household pantry could help a family put food on the table next week.

Food banks can also use donations of volunteers, whether it’s help collecting and distributing food or organizing a food drive. As Layne proved, helping often just requires a few phone calls.

It’s also important to remember that food donations are needed all year. Food banks get a lot of attention around Thanksgiving and Christmas because of the holiday meals they serve, but oftentimes donations slow down after the holidays. Unfortunately, it appears this year, if the economy continues to worsen, the need might continue to grow.

Brendan Moran, editor

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