Francine Edwards, left, and Nancy Bracken set up for the CrossWalk Community Outreach Food Pantry in Naples. Jane Vaughan / Lakes Region Weekly

Local food pantries are beginning their busiest season in need of donations and with concerns about a proposal that could result in fewer SNAP recipients, which would add to their client lists.

The Trump administration proposal would essentially eliminate a program in which states automatically enroll applicants in SNAP if they qualify for other benefits, such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. There could be a drop in the number of people who sign up for food stamp benefits if they aren’t automatically enrolled.

Bridgton Food Pantry Director Penni Robbins said that “people are worried about being cut,” which means that the pantry has recently been busier than usual.

There is plenty of fresh produce available at the Naples pantry. Jane Vaughan / Lakes Region Weekly

Mary Toppi-Beane, volunteer coordinator for the Standish Food Pantry, agreed: “I’ve heard people talking about it, and they’re concerned about it.”

The Department of Health and Human Services estimates that over 44,000 Mainers would lose SNAP benefits under the proposed rule change, including children, the elderly and those with disabilities. The administration has argued that the new rule will prevent abuse of the system and ensure that those who truly need SNAP benefits receive them.

That concern, coupled with the looming colder months and traditional seasonal demand, has many food pantries looking for donations, as well as more volunteers.

Most pantries are looking for mac and cheese, cereal, soup, rice, jams and jellies, coffee, tea and canned tuna, chicken or fruit. They are also in need of supplies like toilet paper, paper towels and shampoo.

Some pantries find that they receive enough donations throughout the holiday season but not during the rest of the winter.

Paula Uttaro makes guacamole for the pantry in Naples. Jane Vaughan / Lakes Region Weekly

With holidays, there are more organizations offering food of various types,” said the Rev. Linda Gard of the First Congregational Christian Church, which runs the New Gloucester Community Food Pantry. “People’s giving of food also increases through that period but then drops off immediately after Christmas through the winter.” 

Gard said the need for donations is greatest just after the holiday season.

The pantries agree that fall through winter is the busiest time of year.

People are more prone to come in and want the help,” said Liz Brown, director and coordinator of the Sebago Food Pantry. “All the sudden, people are coming out of the woodwork that you haven’t seen in a year.”

The Casco Village Church Food Pantry usually serves 48 to 52 families a month, said Director Joanne Vail, and “we usually end up supplying almost 70 food baskets on both Thanksgiving and Christmas.”

“We see those people through the month of January and then we don’t see them anymore,” she said.

Volunteers in Naples work to set up Monday’s food pantry. Jane Vaughan / Lakes Region Weekly

As it gets colder, people are trying to figure out if they’re going to cut back on their food budgets in order to also get heat for their homes,” said Joanna Moore, who runs the CrossWalk Community Outreach in Naples. 

Donna Rand, the coordinator of the Gray Community Food Pantry, said that the pantry gets more calls for emergency food in the wintertime.

People can’t pay their electric bill. Any money that goes towards that doesn’t leave any left for food,” she said. 

Many of the pantries also offer a variety of other services, including Thanksgiving and Christmas baskets, free meals, a thrift shop, a clothes closet, a backpack program, senior boxes and Christmas gifts for children.

Even with help from Good Shepherd Food Bank and Wayside Food Programs, Connie Madura, director of the Naples United Methodist Church Food Pantry, said “there is a big need right now.”

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