Cumberland Town Councilor Tom Gruber, at left, and Town Manager Bill Shane are two of the hundreds of residents who have put in time at the town’s Community Food Pantry since it moved to Town Hall in 2012. File

CUMBERLAND — Town Manager Bill Shane said he felt “just awe” recently upon receiving an anonymous donation of $25,000 each toward both the town’s Community Food Pantry and heating fund, along with $10,000 toward School Administrative District 51’s lunch program.

The food pantry, which Shane and Town Councilor Tom Gruber were involved in moving from the Cumberland Congregational Church to Town Hall in 2012, serves 85-90 families each month from four towns: Cumberland, North Yarmouth, Pownal and New Gloucester. On average, 40-45 families shop at the food pantry each week, and about half the patrons are older than 60, Shane said in an interview Oct. 17.

More than half of the people who use the pantry are from Cumberland, despite the fact that the town is one of Maine’s more affluent communities, Shane said. It was tough initially for some patrons to go through the pantry door, located behind Town Hall next to the Police Department. But Shane said he and Gruber were determined from the start that every person would be treated with respect, no judgment, “and we’re going to welcome everybody.”

The food pantry – more information about which is posted at cumberlandmaine.com/community-food-pantry, or by calling 829-2005 – is open from 3-6 p.m. the first, second and fourth Fridays of each month, on the ground floor at the rear of Cumberland Town Hall, 290 Tuttle Road.

The pantry, which has about 75 volunteers and goes through more than 2,500 pounds of food each time it opens, gets much of its food through the Good Shepherd Food Bank. Although volunteers do ask a patron’s income level, “if you come in and you say you need help, you get help,” Shane said. “There’s no minimum threshold or maximum threshold.”

The pantry has had more than 700 volunteers since it moved to Town Hall, according to Gruber. “It’s just remarkable how the community has stepped up,” he said.

Numbers have been steady in recent years, “and that’s surprising; as the economy has gotten better, I think the folks that are needing the use of the pantry (had) those jobs that never came back,” Shane said. “They’ve struggled with underemployment, not unemployment. … We don’t have a lot of unemployed people.”

The program has an annual operating budget of about $45,000. The town welcomes donations through baskets in the Town Hall lobby as well as food drives. Not only food is available. Staples such as toilet paper, laundry detergent and diapers are also stocked.

“It has really become a safety net for many families,” Shane said.

Early next month, advertising will begin online for donations to fill Thanksgiving and Christmas baskets. Greely Middle School holds a “food-raiser” for the cause, and members of the Cumberland/North Yarmouth Lions Club bake pies.

The town budgets about $20,000 toward the heating fund, but has spent between $20,000-$40,000, depending on the harshness of the winter. Those funds are supplemented by the church, which also spends nearly $20,000 through its Cumberland Woodbank program. The Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program is also available, Shane said.

“There are multiple resources, and still people have a hard time,” he said.

The heating fund helps those who earn just enough to come in under the threshold for General Assistance but still need help. The donations SAD 51 receives toward its lunch program meets a similar gap: those who don’t qualify for free or reduced lunch, but still struggle to pay for school meals.

SAD 51 has a total of 109 qualified free and reduced students – down from 155 in 2016-17 – and 17 student accounts are currently outstanding with $500 or more owed, according to Director of Finance, Human Resources and Operations Scott Poulin. The greatest outstanding balance is $1,450.

In a given year, the town receives about $30,000 in donations toward its heating fund, and about $55,000 toward the pantry. Which goes far to help the rainy day fund.

“We have at least two years of sustainability of the food pantry if we stopped getting donations,” Gruber said.

The recent donor, who has given funds each year since Shane began running the town 17 years ago and was donating well before that, has always asked to remain anonymous, Shane said.

“We all have certain gifts, and some of us are fortunate and blessed to have the gift of finances,” he said, adding if those with wealth are looking for a good cause, the town’s benevolent funds are good choices.

“Because 100 percent of the funds go to the people,” Shane said. “We don’t have overhead, we don’t pay employees; all of us volunteer.”

“The pay we get back is the reward of helping these people, and being part of their lives,” he said. “It is nice that we can make people’s days sometimes.”

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