BATH — Local food banks are bracing as the coronavirus batters the economy, forcing thousands of Mainers into unexpected unemployment.

In the past week, Kimberly Gates, executive director of the Bath Area Food Bank, said the food pantry saw an increase of 14 to 27 families on any given day. The nonprofit typically serves 250 families, or 900 individuals, each month from Bath, West Bath, Woolwich, Arrowsic, Georgetown and Phippsburg.

“These are people who have been laid off and are scared,” said Gates. “We don’t ask for financial information, so anyone can come as long as they’re in our catch area.”

This week, the food bank is preparing an additional 121 bags of food to be delivered to people unable to leave their homes due to the threat of coronavirus.

In Brunswick, Karen Parker, executive director of the Midcoast Hunger Prevention Program, which serves Brunswick, Topsham, Bowdoin, Bowdoinham, Lisbon, Lisbon Falls, Durham and Harpswell, hasn’t seen a drastic increase in need yet, but said she fears she soon will.

Each week, Midcoast Hunger Prevention Program serves an average of 150 meals per day, 200 families per week and takes in 23,600 pounds of food.


“The numbers aren’t overwhelming yet, but we’re expecting our numbers to climb as more people are getting laid off,” said Parker.

As of Monday, Maine health officials reported 107 coronavirus cases in Maine, an increase of 18 since Sunday.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the disease caused by a coronavirus, COVID-19, is spread through person-to-person contact. Public health officials are urging everyone to practice good hygiene – washing hands with soap for at least 20 seconds or using hand sanitizer as a backup – as well as keeping a 6-foot buffer between others, avoiding large gatherings and staying home as much as possible.

Bath Area Food Bank is requiring people to stay in their cars rather than entering the building to pick out what they need. Volunteers deliver identical bags of food to patrons from a safe distance, but Gates said the adopted practice may do more harm than good.

“It causes a huge amount of waste because if someone doesn’t need peanut butter, they usually wouldn’t take it, but now we’re just giving it to them,” said Gates.

Similarly, the Midcoast Hunger Prevention Program is distributing pre-packaged bags of food from the front and back doors of the building to prevent people from coming in close contact.


“In order for us to be here for the long haul, we had to make changes. … We all have to do our part to get through this,” said Parker.

According to the Good Shepherd Food Bank, 200,000 Mainers and 1 in 5 children, struggle with food insecurity. Throughout the state, 13.6% of households are food insecure, which puts Maine above the national average of 11.7%, according to a 2019 report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service.

Volunteer numbers dwindle

Food banks and soup kitchens are forced to shoulder the increase in patrons with a dwindling number of volunteers, as those over age 60 and those with compromised immune systems elect to stay home to protect themselves.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Gates worked with a team of six to seven volunteers per meal, but now she has just two to four people who help pack and distribute the bags of food.

In Brunswick, Parker’s team of 200 to 225 volunteers has fallen to a skeleton crew of 10 to 20 people.


According to Jennifer Hutchins, executive director of the Maine Association of Nonprofits, depleting volunteers is a problem for nonprofits across the state as the threat of coronavirus grows.

“Nonprofits are stuck in this impossible choice of having to prioritize what aspect of their mission they prioritize, said Hutchins. “The government is asking people to stay home, but they have a mission.”

Money may be the answer 

Despite the increase in patrons and sparse volunteers, both Gates and Parker said their most immediate need is funding so they can continue to feed those in need.

Local grocery stores, including Hannaford, Shaws, Target and Trader Joes, donate 70% of the Midcoast Hunger Prevention Program’s food, but those donations are depleting as stores struggle to keep products on the shelves due to increased demand from regular customers.

“If we start to see a major increase in our numbers and decreased donations from stores, we will start needing to purchase food,” said Parker. “Looking out to the future, this may be the way we need to operate for the next year.”

Gates said the Bath Area Food Bank has the resources to survive for the time being, but doesn’t know how long she can continue to serve the people who need the help most. Additionally, should a nearby food pantry or soup kitchen close due to a lack of resources, the Bath Area Food Bank and Midcoast Hunger Prevention Program would absorb any patrons who depended on those nonprofits.

“I’m going to keep doing this until I run out of money,” said Gates. “We’re doing everything we can. … We just want to keep feeding people.”

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