Upcycle Boutique, a fundraiser for Community Outreach Services that provides a food pantry and other services in Arundel and the Kennebunks, returns to Weir’s Buick GMC in Arundel March 29. The event, organized by COS members, provides an afternoon of fun and shopping – and aiding the cause. Courtesy Photo

The heating system in her home wasn’t working and the widow, with little children at home, had nowhere to turn. She contacted her town – which contacted Community Outreach Services – and the organization arranged to get her heating system running.

Recently, a woman needed car repairs to get to her job, but after rent and basic monthly expenses, there just wasn’t enough money left for much else, though her income was over the limit for General Assistance. She contacted COS, and they came through.

An older resident of one of the three towns served by Community Outreach Services – Arundel, Kennebunk and Kennebunkport was helped by the agency when she didn’t have hot water. Now, she does.

Referring people to COS is an avenue social service administrators in the three towns can take when people in may not qualify for General Assistance because their income may be over the limit, but the need remains.

This year, COS is marking the beginning of its third decade.

“COS helps with so many things,” said Wendy Lank, Arundel’s general assistance and social services administrator. “Our residents can get help with things such as 100 gallons of heating fuel, help with an electric bill, eye glasses or any other “special need” item like auto repairs or maintenance on their home.”

“They are a really important organization in our community and we are extremely fortunate to work closely with them to help meet the needs of our residents,” said Karen Winton, general assistance administrator in Kennebunk.

COS is a nonprofit, born in November 1990 as Church Community Outreach Services when members recognized a need for a food pantry. The original charter churches  – St. Martha, St. David’s, South Congregational, Holy Cross Lutheran, First Congregational, West Kennebunk United Methodist, Sea Road Christian Church, First Parish Unitarian Universalist, and Kennebunk Baptist Church got together and made the pantry happen. They were joined by Village Baptist Church, Church on the Cape, Christ’s Church, St. Ann’s Episcopal, and First Church of Christ, Scientist.

Beth Jones was an early board member. She became involved in 1992, she said, after she learned from her first grade son that a classmate came to school hungry, every day.

Community Outreach Services of Arundel and the Kennebunks provides food pantries and helps community members in a number of ways. It is marking its 30th anniversary this year. Courtesy Photo

“My son asked me to pack extra food,” for the classmate, said Jones. It was something she and her son did quietly. One day the principal learned of the act of kindness and she and Jones began a conversation. Jones said the principal told her there were about 25 children in the school who were in the same predicament; they were hungry.

Jones decided to develop a school snack pantry and got some help with her mission through COS – and in return became a board member. These days, she volunteers with food drives and with the produce pantry.

COS members Sharon Binette and Dr. Andrea Brown founded the COS Food for Thought backpack program six years ago that serves 25 children in the elementary schools with backpacks of easy-to-prepare food they take home  for the weekend. The program has expanded to include a food, snack and personal hygiene pantry at Kennebunk High School, and Binette said COS hopes to expand the backpack program to middle school students sometime this year.

“We knew there was a need but didn’t realize how much of a need there really was,” said Binette, who said one in three children at RSU 21 are at risk for food insecurity.

Mark Jago, COS’s part-time executive director, said COS knows, from operating a free summer lunch program for RSU 21 students, that there is a greater need, and are trying to find a way to meet it.

Jago said the “regular” food pantry, where folks are provided with a box of non-perishable food through referrals from the General Assistance offices in Arundel or the Kennebunks, assists about 1,500 families annually.

The produce pantry is open to the public on Fridays at St. Martha, and offers fresh produce, frozen meats and desserts, said Jago, who estimated 2,100 families are assisted annually. During the growing season, fresh produce is donated from community gardens.

Jago said COS also offers $25 gifts cards to the three General Assistance offices, for distribution at the GA administrator’s discretion and estimated 500 gift cards are provided each year

As well, the agency supplies food baskets to 100 families at Thanksgiving and again at Christmas.

And then there are the other programs, like fuel, and special needs, like eyeglasses, furnace repairs, and the like.

“Each year we have seen the number of households that qualify for General Assistance decline,” said Winton, the Kennebunk GA administrator. “This is due in part to the growing lack of affordability of our area and the lack of available housing, among other reasons. The special needs grants offered by COS can make a real difference for a family in preventing a future emergency by giving them a hand up … It can mean not losing their apartment due to being behind on rent, not losing a job due to needing a car repair, and avoiding a medical or dental emergency by getting help early on with an expense.”

She said Kennebunk alone referred 25 households to COS for special needs last year, when they couldn’t qualify for General Assistance.

Winton shared a note from a man who received assistance from COS for a special need.

“You have renewed my faith in mankind,” the man wrote. “People helping people, especially in these times of chaos in the world. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. You will never know what a difference you made.”

As it marks its 30th year, COS is hosting its seventh Upcycle Boutique at Weir’s Buick GMC in Arundel, on Sunday, March 29, where for a $30 ticket, which can be had by calling 632-6767 or emailing: [email protected], folks can enjoy an afternoon of shopping, snacks, drink tickets and from- the-rack purchases of gently used clothing items and accessories. Those who have ready-to-wear clothing and accessories to contribute may drop them off at Weir’s 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday.

The Upcycle Boutique is a fundraiser, as is the popular Farm to Fork dinner, held later in the year, and an event to mark its  third decade is being planned, said COS development director Michelle Allen.

Jago said fundraisers and food drives raise awareness in the community and provide a way for people to help their neighbors. As well, there are speaking engagements at local service clubs and to civic organizations.

COS has an annual budget of $150,000, he said.

“We’re fortunate to live in a community that is compassionate, cares for their neighbors and does an awesome job of supporting organizations like COS,” said Jago.

“People need to pay it forward more,” said Allen. “Help us help our neighbors.”

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