AUBURN – After many years providing area food pantries with frozen turkeys for clients’ Thanksgiving dinner, the Good Shepherd Food-Bank is no longer providing the main course, opting instead to offer gift cards and trimmings.

According to Good Shepherd’s communications manager, Clara McConnell, the Auburn- and Portland-based food distribution center has sold about 10,000 turkeys at cut-rate prices to food pantries throughout Maine in the past. However, that practice is being discontinued this year due to potential food contamination issues and logistical difficulties, since the turkeys had to be distributed in a short period just before the holiday.

“It was always a challenge to distribute the turkeys and to know that the pantries had the adequate refrigeration and freezer capacity to store them and then get them out to families. So there was always a food safety concern on our part. And it was quite a challenge to coordinate the distribution of the turkeys,” McConnell said.

Cost of the turkeys, which were shipped frozen, was a long-running issue, as well, McConnell said.

“We found we were having to lock in our order, since it was such a bulk order, over the summer, usually the early part of the summer when the price of turkeys is not that great,” McConnell said. “And then you come around to the holiday season and all the stores drop the price significantly and run specials, so we were spending more money than needs to be spent because now if you go into the store in November, you’ll get a much better price on a turkey,” she said.

Last year, Good Shepherd sold the turkeys for 16 cents a pound, a significant savings for pantries that usually spend between 49 and 59 cents a pound on frozen turkeys. The loss of the inexpensive holiday staple means food pantries not receiving the gift cards from Hannaford or Shaw’s will need to identify other sources of funding if they want to provide a turkey.

However, Good Shepherd isn’t leaving the client pantries high and dry. It’s already sent out $50,000 worth of gift cards from Hannaford and $20,000 from Shaw’s. Plus, in a new tack this year, Good Shepherd is providing 150,000 meals worth of Thanksgiving trimmings that pantries can purchase at half the cost of Good Shepherd paid food suppliers for the meals.

As a result of the changes, McConnell said, the low-cost food distributor has gotten a range of reactions from its pantry members.

“Some food pantries that we’ve talked to immediately said, ‘We completely understand, we can get turkeys donated.’ But others have been more upset, so we are trying to reassure everyone that we’re trying to do what’s best with our limited resources and what works well for the majority of pantries,” McConnell said. “You can’t always please everyone, but we’re trying something new this year and we hope it works out well for everyone.”

Windham

Madeline Roberts, director of the Windham Food Pantry, said the pantry is planning to purchase gift cards from Hannaford since they are designated for food only, rather than other items such as beer or cigarettes, which clients could buy instead.

“We’ll give them a $10 gift card, so if they want to get a ham, they can get a ham, I have some ethnic groups that like fish so they can get fish. And so it makes it a little more comfortable for the client,” Roberts said.

Roberts also has a sizeable remnant of canned and boxed Thanksgiving dinner fixings that Hannaford donated after last year’s holiday shopping season. While she’s happy to receive the trimmings, she’ll miss the bargain-basement pricing on turkeys.

“I am disappointed because I got them for 16 cents a pound last year and I got 216 turkeys and they each averaged around 14 pounds, so I saved a tremendous amount of money last year,” Roberts said.

Naples

Joanna Moore, who runs CrossWalk Community Outreach food pantry in Naples, is taking a different tack from other pantries, opting for a community dinner, rather than Thanksgiving baskets.

“We are serving the meal at Naples Town Hall on Thanksgiving Day free of charge. And we have enough turkeys to feed the people a meal,” she said. “We’re finding our public thanksgiving meal is very well received and so we are going a different route and looking forward to having a great time with our community on that date.”

Bridgton

Deb Davenport, director/coordinator of the privately run Bridgton Food Pantry, says the loss of turkeys will be an added hurdle this Thanksgiving.

“It’s a strain, because we haven’t been able to get a lot of meat to cover the need, and the same with the turkeys. So we’re going to have to check our budget just before Thanksgiving and go and buy the turkeys for whatever we can find for the best sale,” Davenport said.

The pantry, which is based out of the United Methodist Church of Bridgton at 98 Main St., has plenty of freezer and refrigerated space that Davenport is hoping to fill with donated turkeys from individuals, churches or businesses.

“One way or the other I will manage to have the turkeys because we have to cover that need. So, it may be a strain on the food pantry, but we will most definitely find a way to make sure everyone goes home with a Thanksgiving dinner,” Davenport said.

Casco

Another food pantry affected by the change is the Casco Village Church’s pantry. Wanda Vaughn-Carr, who is filling in as the contact person while director Theda Logan is away, said she has received a promise from Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church in Windham for 25 turkeys this Thanksgiving.

“So they are wonderful for doing that,” Vaughn-Carr said.

Happy to be receiving the fixings from Good Shepherd, she expects to need additional turkeys and will rely on donations for those.

“They will appear, we have faith,” she said.

Those wishing to donate can call Vaughn-Carr at 627-4282 or send checks to Casco Village Church, PO Box 367, Casco, ME, 04015.

Standish

Catherine’s Cupboard, which is run by Saint Joseph’s College out of Standish Town Hall, has no affiliation with Good Shepherd so is not affected. However, pantry manager Amy Russell said donations are needed. She said there will be a fundraising event on Election Day and she is working with the local Kiwanis Club and local businesses to raise money to purchase turkeys and all the trimmings.

“We are on our own for the Thanksgiving drive. We have to find creative ways to come up with the needed donations. This year we are looking at providing 275 boxes, 75 more than last year,” Russell said. “It is going to be a struggle, but we trust those who have, to help those who don’t.”


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