A food bank that distributes 1.5 million pounds of food annually in York County could close next week if it doesn’t get an infusion of cash.

Uncertainty about the future of York County Food Rescue is raising concern among hunger relief workers and county officials who say the nonprofit is a critical source of food for nearly 50 programs across the county. And the budget crunch comes as food pantries are serving a growing number of individuals and families.

The York County Food Rescue needs to raise $8,000 to stay open through the end of October. The organization has received fewer cash donations than it anticipated and already has gone through its $110,000 annual budget because it has distributed more food than expected, director Jodi Bissonnette said Monday.

“We’re very concerned about the impact this could have,” said Kristine Jenkins, coordinating director of Partners for a Hunger-Free York County, a coalition of organizations addressing hunger issues. “They’ve been an important player in York County for a long time.”

For the past 12 years, the program has distributed food collected from grocery stores and from the U.S. Department of Agriculture commodities program free of charge to food pantries and similar programs. Last year it distributed about 1.5 million pounds of food to 45 food pantries, soup kitchens and social service agencies across the county.

Bissonnette’s group has distributed 1 million pounds of food to about 50,000 people so far this year, with the busiest part of the year still to come. By the end of the year, Bissonnette expects that if her organization stays open it would surpass the 1.5 million pounds of food it distributed last year.


The board of directors told her on Friday that the organization was out of money.

“It was shocking and surprising,” she said. “If we close, it will have a massive impact. About one-third of our pantries, the only food they get is from us.”

The group’s warehouse in Alfred is fully stocked with the food it regularly distributes to pantries, as well as 5,000 turkeys to be given away at Thanksgiving.

If the program does not raise enough money to stay open, the loss of the food bank would have a ripple effect across York County, where more than 26,000 people struggle with food insecurity, according to Feeding America.

The food insecurity rate in Maine is nearly 15 percent, meaning about 200,000 people don’t have enough food to maintain a healthy diet. Nearly 1 in 4 children is considered food insecure, according to the USDA. Maine ranks 18th in the country and first in New England in food insecurity.

Despite signs of an improving economy, such as declining unemployment, food pantry directors say they are dealing with more people in need of food.


“Our numbers go up every week,” said Helen Lewis, director of Stone Soup Food Pantry in Biddeford, where food is given to 50 to 80 families each week. “We would be affected deeply because (Bissonnette) gives us a lot of food.”

Jenkins hears regularly from food pantry directors about rising demand. “We’re hearing there’s more need than ever. The cost of everything is going up and people aren’t making more money,” she said.

While demand is up, Bissonnette said donations are down and food programs in general are trying to get through a traditionally lean fall season leading up to the holidays. “This time of year is when everyone gets a little tight because they’re waiting for holiday donations to come around,” she said.

The food rescue program operates out of a county-owned building on Route 202 in Alfred. It moved there in 2013 after being evicted from a Sanford warehouse. It recently became a 501(c)(3) nonprofit after previously being associated with the Stone Soup pantry in Biddeford. Bissonnette could not apply for grants while waiting to receive nonprofit status.

Donations of $1,500 received over the weekend allowed Bissonnette to register the delivery truck and pay bills through the end of the month. An anonymous donor promised to donate $2,500 if the program can raise $5,000 by next Tuesday, she said.

Gregory Zinser, York County manager, said the county leases the warehouse to the food rescue program for $1 a year and has no further involvement. But he said county officials want to sit down with Bissonnette and the board of directors to see how the county can assist the organization.


“I think there is an opportunity here for us to possibly bring some stability to the organization and help maintain this resource for the county,” Zinser said.

Jenkins, from Partners for a Hunger-Free York County, said the food bank’s struggles highlight the need for cash donations as well as food donations.

“People don’t necessarily want to pay for fuel to get the food around, but it has to be paid. That’s the conundrum many food programs have,” she said. “It’s wonderful (that) people have canned food drives, but at the end of the day, sometimes what your local food pantry needs is a check.”

Donations can be sent to: York County Food Rescue, P.O. Box 863, Sanford, ME 04073. For more information, call 324-1273.

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