Baby Matthew – that’s his real name; he was born in India, the “baby” in a family of six – hasn’t had a day off in four years.

“I work a lot,” he said with a laugh.

Matthew, 63, is an operating room nurse at Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston. His other “job,” for which he volunteers 30 to 40 hours a week, is overseeing the food pantry at the First Assembly of God church in Portland.

“He pours his life into it, and every week I think ‘How can he keep going,’ ” said his wife, Barbara, who also volunteers in the food pantry. “But every week when we finish there’s a feeling of satisfaction, the feeling that we’ve made a difference in someone’s life.”

The church gives away more than 10,000 pounds of food to its neighbors in need every Sunday. That’s the equivalent of 8,000 meals.

“He is the main hub of the operation,” said Pastor Memana Abraham. “He finds his meaning and purpose in that ministry.”

Matthew spends a lot of time on the road, picking up boxes of fresh produce and nonperishables donated by grocery stores and restaurants, including Hannaford and Panera Bread. The church also buys food from the Good Shepherd Food Bank in Auburn.

On Saturdays, he and other dedicated volunteers sort through the boxes and arrange the food on sturdy tables in the church’s cramped basement. By Sunday morning there’s usually a long line snaking around the block.

Many of those who depend on the food pantry are refugees.

“He’s passionate about it because he’s gone through all of those challenges (of coming to a new country) himself,” said longtime parishioner Peggy Hinman. “He serves with humility and he works tirelessly.”

Matthew, who was raised on a small farm in India, came to the U.S. in 1976. His family didn’t have much, he said, but what they did have, they shared.

“My mother used to feed people who came to our house hungry,” he said.

That’s a lesson her “Baby” took to heart.

When the doors to the food bank open, Matthew and his wife welcome every person with a hug, a handshake, a smile. And he always makes sure he has treats at the ready for the children who come.

“In refugee camps they were just a number,” he said. “(Here) you’re not just a number. You are a person.”

– Susan Kimball

Read all of our profiles of Mainers to be thankful for in 2015.

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