SANFORD — York County Food Rescue will shut down April 1 if donated warehouse space ”“ or donated funds to lease space ”“ are not secured.

The food rescue service supplies government surplus food and donated food, free of charge, to 47 food pantries and soup kitchens across York County. Program Director Jodi Bissonnette said the program, housed at 199 Jagger Mill Road, was served eviction papers last week and a judge on Monday gave the program two weeks to leave the premises.

The rescue is making two food distributions this week and will make distributions next week, well ahead of schedule, in order to make sure pantries are stocked and there will be less to move from its present quarters, she said.

If York County Food Rescue is forced to close, it will be a hardship for food pantries that feed the hungry, pantry managers say.

Kathy Duke, president of Stone Soup Food Pantry in Biddeford, said the agency relies heavily on York County Food Rescue to help feed hungry people. York County Food Rescue operates under the auspices of Stone Soup.

“It’s a lifesaver,” said Duke.

Carol Cail of Sanford Food Pantry said the pantry there benefits from large food drives conducted by local firefighters, schools ”“ and this year even by USS Miami submariners at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard. Small food drives also give a boost, but York County Food Rescue plays a major role in Sanford Food Pantry’s ability to feed the hungry, said Cail. She estimated the food rescue program supplies 75 percent of the food distributed by Sanford Food Pantry.

Bob Nichols, director of the Saco Food Pantry, estimated the pantry receives upwards of 20 percent of its food from York County Food Rescue, and said if it closes, it will be a blow to the Saco pantry and others across the county.

“(We) have been meeting with York County Food Rescue and other partners to prepare as best we can for whatever happens,” said Kristine Jenkins of Partners for a Hunger Free York County, a coalition of organizations and individuals working to eradicate hunger. “York County Food Rescue has been an important part of the emergency food system in York County for years and we hope they can solve this immediate problem.”

Bissonnette said the agency is looking for 4,000 square feet of warehouse space with a bay door and floors on which a forklift can drive. There must be room for a 12-pallet freezer, two coolers and other equipment.

She said they’d like to stay in the Sanford area because of its central location, but will consider any York County community.

York County Food Rescue Executive Director Tom Vacca said there’s no money for rent, so they’re hoping someone with space will be generous enough to help, or someone with funds will help the food rescue program lease space.

Bissonnette and Vacca say they had been in talks with Good Shepherd Food Bank in an effort to jointly lease space in York County, but that came to naught. Good Shepherd Food Bank spokeswoman Clara McConnell Whitney said the two organizations ultimately decided to pursue separate locations.

Bissonnette and Vacca also said York County Food Rescue had been negotiating with the owners of the old Jagger Mill, but were unable to make a commitment to pay $2,000 a month and make repairs to the structure.

199 Jagger Mill Road is owned by Jagger Mill, LLC. Owner Brenda Scally, in a prepared statement issued Tuesday night, said the corporation was under an obligation through the purchase of the property to allow the York County Food Rescue to remain there, rent free, during the term of the mortgage, which she said was discharged Oct. 5.

“Although we are under no obligation to allow the York County Food Rescue to remain in the premises, great efforts were made to negotiate a written lease with them, to no avail,” said Scally. “Other groups, like Habitat for Humanity and the Military Surplus for Veterans in Need, remain in the building at 199 Jagger Mill Road, and we hope will have an ongoing presence there. The long-term development plan of mixed uses within the building will likely include both organizations.”

Vacca said York County Food Rescue has been providing more than 1.2 million pounds of food a year to food pantries and soup kitchens in the county. Last year, he said, the distribution included more than 189,513 meals to children.

“The need is there,” said Duke, of Stone Soup. “York County Food Rescue is a good organization and does so much to help people.”

— Senior Staff Writer Tammy Wells can be contacted at 324-4444 (local call in Sanford) or 282-1535, Ext. 327 or [email protected].

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