CASCO – Thanks to a new collaboration among Casco, Naples and Cumberland County, volunteers for food pantries in the northern Lakes Region no longer have to spend their own time and money hauling food from urban distribution centers. Instead, a truck will do it for them.

The program, known as The Cupboard Collective, is spearheaded by the Portland-based People’s Regional Opportunity Program using an $8,000 block grant from Cumberland County and $2,000 worth of donations from the towns of Naples and Casco.

According to the program’s coordinator, Bria White, the new service offers deliveries to rural food pantries at least once a month, and sometimes twice. The deliveries are seen as a godsend by the rural pantry directors, since their volunteers have spent countless hours and gallons of gas driving to distribution centers in Auburn or Portland to fetch the food.

“It is so awesome, so amazingly awesome for us,” said Joanna Moore, board member of the Naples Crosswalk Community Outreach food pantry.

And while the program is open to all pantries in the Lakes Region, Casco and Naples are the first to sign up. In late September, a truck from Wayside Food Rescue in Portland made its first trip to three pantries in the two towns, each of which had volunteers at the door waiting with their wagons and dollies in order to transport the delivery to their stockrooms.

“We used to have to go twice a month to Good Shepherd and once a month to Wayside to pick up all the food, and you can imagine the wear and tear on our vehicles and our own gas,” said Theda Logan, coordinator of the Casco Village Church Food Pantry. “So it’s a huge time and money saver since we don’t have to go get it.”

The deliveries are a needed shot in the arm to the food pantries using the service. Directors were sent reeling this summer when news came that the federal government was cutting all funding for food pantries in Cumberland and York counties.

“So this is an answer to one of the problems we’re dealing with, which is actually getting the food here,” said Moore. “We’re not completely out of the woods by any means, but this is an extra-special blessing.”

While the Casco Village Church’s pantry feeds about 45 families a month, Crosswalk is seeing twice that amount. The program also holds a monthly meal for about 260 people.

Moore said the local community hasn’t yet stepped up with additional donations in the month since news broke that the pantry was losing it federal funding, which once covered about 90 percent of the pantry’s expenses, leaving the pantries struggling to meet the uptick in need.

“Hannaford contributes food, but even that has been cut down in recent months, and what we do get from local donations can’t touch what we need,” Moore said. “I think local people are feeling the pinch as well and are cutting back on their giving. I don’t know how else to explain it.”

White said the collective’s timing couldn’t be better.

“Food pantries are absolutely struggling,” she said. “Funding has been cut and donations are down. So food isn’t being dropped off at the doorstep of food pantries and they have to rely more and more on things like Wayside Food Rescue and Good Shepherd Food-Bank to make sure they have adequate amounts of food.”

The key to keeping deliveries coming to the Lakes Region’s food pantries is more involvement, said White.

White, who ran the Preble Street Resource Center’s food pantry for two years in Portland prior to managing PROP’s Healthy Lakes-Communities Putting Prevention to Work program, said the goal is to add two or three other food pantries, which will spread out the cost burden.

“The towns of Naples and Casco should really be applauded for stepping up and joining us in this pilot effort,” White said, referring to the $1,000 donations each town made to the effort. “If we get just a couple more towns and each town contributes a small amount toward the operations budget, we should be able to be self-sustained within a few years.”

Debbie Masters, left, and her husband Dana Masters, volunteer
drivers for Wayside Food Rescue in Portland, deliver hundreds of
pounds of donated food to the Casco Village Church recently.
Helping to haul the food into the stock room is pantry coordinator
Theda Logan. (Staff photo by John Balentine)

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