Many years ago, I learned about surplus food, distributed free by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

At that time, I was married and living with my in-laws in South Dakota. They cared for eight foster children and once a month on what she called “pick-up day,” my mother-in-law went to a distribution point to pick up what she referred to as “commodities” or surplus food – each qualified recipient in the household got a standard allotment of canned and packaged items.

I remember being so surprised at the things that actually came in a can – like a whole chicken, roast beef and something like ground ham. Real butter, cheese, maple syrup, flour, cornmeal, powdered milk and eggs and many other basics were included.

Helping to cook for that crowd, I soon learned how to make cornbread almost totally from “commodity” food – except for the baking powder. The kids in that family had never had cornbread – and served with real maple syrup (also came with the surplus foods) it was a treat.

That was more than 40 years ago and I haven’t heard much about surplus foods since then. I know that the school lunch programs are subsidized in part by USDA surplus foods.

Imagine my surprise when I read on the website of Southern Maine Agency on Aging that they are in charge of the Commodity Supplemental Food Program that provides (free of charge) individuals age 60 or older with 30 pounds of “commodity food” including items like dry pasta, cereal, canned meats and vegetables, and cheese.

Would you like to receive free food?

• Are you 60 or older?

• Is your income under $1,211 per month for one or $1,640 for two?

• Would you be able to pick up the food monthly at one of the pick up locations on the right?

If you said yes to all three questions, then you may be able to receive a 30-pound box of food through the CSFP. An application must be completed and is available on the Internet by going to the SMAA website, or contact Jessica LeBlanc at SMAA, 396-6585 or 1-800-400-6325, ext. 583.

If you think you may not be able to pick up, if you qualify, you can complete a proxy form so a family member, friend or neighbor can pick up the food. If you are deaf or hard of hearing and need relay service, call 711.

I called the Southern Maine Agency on Aging to find out if this program is still in effect and was told, “We are still running the commodities program. Right now I have a waiting list in all three counties I’m serving, but I am always accepting applications. We have openings come up every month, so first on the list, first on the program. Also, should we have a surplus amount of food during the month (people don’t come, quit the program, etc.) we contact people on our wait list to see if they’d like the pick up.”

Distribution points are York County Shelter in Alfred, Bridgton Food Pantry in Bridgton, Project Feed at Woodford’s Congregational Church in Portland, Wayside Food Rescue in Portland and one place in Oxford County.

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