These days, Seeds of Hope Neighborhood Center in Biddeford is handling their brunch program a little differently because of the corona virus – handing out bagged lunches. Back in January,  folks were able to dine inside. Intern Fayla  Sutton  is shown in this January photo, carrying  a flat of eggs to the refrigerator. Tammy Wells Photo

As cautions and precautions about COVID-19 and the coronavirus continue, those who help those who rely on food pantries, meal kitchens and municipal social services say the people they see are anxious about what is happening and thankful for the assistance they receive.

While two food pantries have closed in Biddeford as a precaution against exposure, and a meal program Saco is currently shuttered, others who provide sustenance are continuing on.

Don Bisson of Biddeford Food Pantry said he hopes to be able to reopen the pantry on March 31.

“We had to take precautions because of the corona virus and wanted to keep people safe,” he said,

Biddeford’s Stone Soup Food Pantry is also closed.

Seeds of Hope Neighborhood Center, which has provided a daily weekday brunch and a place where people can meet and socialize, has had to change the way it operates, said Rev. Shirley Bowen. Now, people are given bag lunches, and there is no socializing inside.

“The neighbors we serve are deeply grateful we’re still serving and very understanding that this is a new world,” said Bowen by phone on Thursday. “They understand they can’t come in and hang out. People are being very generous and understanding.”

Bowen said some who stop by for a bag lunch are anxious about the virus, the availability of supplies, and the like.

Bowen was worried because many of Seeds of Hope volunteers fall into high risk categories, and so the agency was short on help. But, she said, people in the community and the city have been generous as well.

“I put out the word and I can’t tell you how many people came in to volunteer,” she said.

At Bon Appetit, which offers a hot meal from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. on weekdays at the Second Congregational Church on Crescent Street in Biddeford, board president Laura Cortright said volunteers are cooking a hot meal they pack in to-go containers and let in five people at a time to pick them up. And there is a lot of hand washing and other precautions.

“We don’t see Bon Appetit closing at all,” said Cortright.

Biddeford’s General Assistance administrator Kristen Barth said the office is seeing more folks looking for help.

“We’re seeing people we’ve never seen before,” said Barth. She said some of the uptick is due to layoffs in the hospitality industry. Another, she said, is that some people had relied on the food pantries that are now temporarily closed and had not had to approach General Assistance until now.

Across the river in Saco, City Clerk Michele Hughes, whose office administers general assistance, estimated there had been a “handful,” of new people dropping by.

“We’ve had a couple of people laid off and trying to figure out the process, and we directed them to different resources,” Hughes said.

The Saco Meals Program that provided a community meal on Mondays and Thursdays at Most Holy Trinity Church Hall, posted a notice on March 17 that said meals are canceled for 30 days and that they will reassess on April 13.

The Saco Food Pantry posted a notice on March 15 that said the pantry would remain open. The pantry has changed their procedures for pickup.

The Old Orchard Beach Community Pantry, which opens Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays, has changed their protocol, and is handing out food parcels at the door.

The York County Shelter Programs Food Pantry, open to residents across the county, is located at the corner of Swett’s Bridge Road and Route 4 (Jordan Springs Road) in Alfred. The pantry, which is operating a drive-through service these days, is open noon to 3 p.m. on Fridays and Tuesdays.

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