NAPLES – Dana Masters stood in the back of a box truck Thursday morning handing flats of canned sweet corn and beef stew to his wife, Debbie, who stacked them in a storage shed behind the Town Office.

The Bridgton couple have volunteered to spend every other Thursday driving the truck from Portland, where it’s loaded with food at the Wayside Soup Kitchen and the Good Shepherd Food-Bank, to three food pantries in the Lakes Region.

Thursday’s delivery marked the start of the new service, which is run by the People’s Regional Opportunity Program and funded by an $8,000 Community Development Block Grant and the towns of Naples and Casco.

The refrigerated truck, owned by Wayside, will make two deliveries per month, relieving volunteers with the pantries from making frequent trips to Portland to load their cars with food. They will no longer have to pack coolers with ice to transport meat or pay out of pocket to fill their gas tanks.

Theda Logan, who runs the food pantry at the Casco Village Church, estimated that she has spent $300 a year on gas.

“That wasn’t counting the springs we broke,” she said.

Joanna Moore, founder of the food pantry in Naples, said she has seen her Cadillac sag nearly to the ground from the weight of the food she has packed in it.

“I pile my car to the top,” she said.

The Naples pantry, called The Food Basket, is open every other Monday. Moore said nearly 100 families came to the Town Office this week for food. That’s an increase of about 25 families since the spring.

“It’s shocking, really, the level of need,” said Bria White, the coordinator from the People’s Regional Opportunity Program.

White said food transportation has been the biggest hurdle for small, rural pantries that have tried to keep up with increasing numbers of clients. The $8,000 federal grant will cover gas and vehicle maintenance for the first year of the program.

If other towns join the effort and dedicate some tax dollars, the program could run itself within a couple of years, said White.

Staff Writer Leslie Bridgers can be contacted at 791-6364 or at: [email protected]