Saco Food Pantry board members and volunteers say they can assist federal workers without paychecks because of the partial government shutdown. Top, from left, are John White, Lynn Steed and John Reynolds. Seated is Joe Bekasi. ED PIERCE/Journal Tribune

SACO — As the partial government shutdown drags into a third week, the Saco Food Pantry is stepping up and advising federal workers living in the area without paychecks that they have ways to help in tough times.

An estimated 800,000 federal workers nationwide are without pay because of the shutdown and the list includes some U.S. law enforcement, court personnel, air traffic controllers, correctional officers, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Commerce, U.S. Forest Service, Department of Transportation, Department of Housing and Urban Development and Internal Revenue Service employees in the immediate area. The Saco Food Pantry provides food for local Mainers in need through short-term and intermittent help, and long-term help for those experiencing continued difficulties.

“This never occurred to anyone before this, but we can help,” said John Reynolds, a Saco Food Pantry board member. “The pantry is ready to help any government workers from the area who are affected by the federal government shutdown. They need to bring in their government identification and proof of residence and we’ll help.”

Toni Clark, the food pantry board’s recording secretary, said the organization can also provide resources for federal workers enduring the shutdown to help make ends meet besides food assistance.

“Part of what we are is a resource referral,” she said. “We can help in so many different ways.”

Clark said that one of those resources is Open Hands Open Heart, an outreach program located adjacent to the Saco Food Pantry where families may pick up clothing for infants and children up to age 11 free.

Food Pantry board member Lynn Steed said that a perception in the community is that the Saco Food Pantry is just for people living on welfare.

“That’s not correct,” she said. “We serve the elderly and seniors on fixed incomes, single-mothers trying to make ends meet, those who have been laid off from a job, can’t afford everything working for minimum wage, or they are homeless. In an ideal world Social Security would be enough. And in an ideal world, no one would be starving.”

Recipients may come to the food pantry at 67 Ocean Park Road in Saco once a month, and are provided at least three meals for five days for each family member for that month, or 15 meals per person. When available, some pet food and personal items are also provided.

Reynolds said that last year the food pantry assisted 3,119 families, 7,229 individuals and provided 108,435 meals. Some meals were also given to non-residents of the city on an emergency basis.

Food is obtained for the pantry through a number of ways, Clark said.

“Good Shepherd Food Bank sells us food at a very good rate. We figure it averages 6 pounds for every dollar. They send a list of foods available, and we get a large order from them weekly. In October, we bought close to $3,000 worth of food or 18,000 pounds,” she said.

Hannaford and Shaws also donate perishables that are nearing their use-by date through an arrangement with Good Shepherd Food Bank of Maine. Food drive donations from the public also help fill pantry shelves, along with TEFAP (The Emergency Food Assistance Program from the federal government).

Private donations also help food pantry volunteers purchase items in grocery stores on sale and pay other expenses such as transportation, energy bills, maintenance, insurance, and cleaning.

To break it all down on a yearly basis, donations from various groups, churches and nonprofits last year amounted  to $28,328 or 25 percent of the pantry’s expenses. Local businesses contributed $37,515 or 33 percent of expenses. Individual donations were $39,944 or 36 percent of expenses, with food drives and fundraisers collecting $3,839 or 3 percent of expenses. Grants received by the food pantry amounted to $6,000 or 5 percent of the organization’s annual expenses.

The pantry has about 592 active participants and averages between 275 and 290 people each month requesting help.

The Saco Food Pantry is open from 9 to 11 a.m. Monday through Friday and from 5 to 7 p.m. on the last Tuesday of every month.  About 55 volunteers donate their time to help out at the food pantry and more are always needed.

For more information, call 468-1305 or visit www.sacofoodpantry.org

— Executive Editor Ed Pierce can be reached at 282-1535 or by email at [email protected]

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