Sarah Lundin, left, and Robin Harriman, both of Freeport Community Services, prepare bags of food for people to obtain through a drive-up service. In the first hour on April 6, more than 30 households received prepackaged bags of frozen meat, fresh produce, fresh bread, and non-perishable goods. Courtesy Freeport Community Services

BATH — Without 11,000 pounds of food delivered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Bath Area Food Bank would have been forced to close three weeks ago, according to Executive Director Kimberly Gates.

“I just stood there and cried” upon seeing her pantry restocked, she said. “Because that fed my families for a full month.”

Pantries in Brunswick and Freeport are facing their own challenges as well in the struggle to adequately feed people in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Bath food bank feeds about 250 families in an average month, but that number shot up to 427 amid the outbreak in Maine of COVID-19 last month, Gates said. The first half of this month saw more than 300 families, which slowed after federal economic stimulus checks were sent out, although she expects numbers to soon rise again.

“So many that have never walked through my doors … it is so hard for them,” Gates said. “They have been laid off, and unemployment has not kicked in. We have told families to continue coming to us even when their unemployment starts. We want to help feed your families.”

The Food Bank asks those in need to drive to the pantry at 807 Middle St. and wait in a vehicle until their number is called, to minimize the number of people in the building.

One source of revenue for the Food Bank is its parking lot, where 13 spaces were offered to Bath Iron Works employees. But with the pandemic causing reduced staffing, only four spots are being rented at $65 a month. “That’s a hit for us,” Gates said.

The bank had a pre-pandemic monthly budget of about $10,100; Gates expected to have a better idea by the end of this month how that amount has increased to meet demand. Good Shepherd Food Bank, where she’s been able to purchase food at discount, is due to make its first delivery April 28. In the meantime she’s had to purchase food at retail prices from Hannaford and Walmart.

More than $7,000 in donations from Bath residents have helped, and the food donations from the USDA have been something of a miracle for Gates.

“I remember when getting jewelry was exciting, now it’s food,” Gates said.

Freeport Community Services is actually experiencing a slight dip, but new faces. Its food pantry typically saw about 100 households a week prior to the pandemic; it is now seeing between 80-90, according to Director of Programs Sarah Lundin.

“It does tend to be a different crowd, though, then what we were seeing before,” she said. For instance, food stamp availability has increased in response to the health and economic crisis, she pointed out – Maine Public reported that the state has gotten extra federal funding through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program in order to offer more than $11 million in added benefits for April.

“So that is helping some folks have a bit more stability,” Lundin said. On the other hand, people who’ve been employed but recently had their hours cut or lost their jobs entirely are turning to the pantry for support, she said.

Freeport Community Services has seen a slight uptick in number of food deliveries, from 10 before the pandemic to 15 now. It fluctuates week to week, and “depends on how things play out,” Lundin said.

The organization was able to place a 7,000-pound order with Good Shepherd late last month, but now finds itself running out of peanut butter, cereal and soup. It is requesting donations via its Facebook page. Taking added safety measures, FCS has also stopped getting produce from the Hannaford and Shaw’s supermarkets, acquiring it from Laughing Stock Farm in Freeport instead.

Freeport Community Services is a nonprofit organization that also serves Pownal, and it doesn’t receive any federal or state funding, according to Executive Director Paula Paladino. Its thrift shop generates 35-40%, or about $26,000 a month, of the organization’s revenue, which funds its operating costs and programs.

FCS was forced March 17 to close the shop, which relies entirely on community donations, and that loss of revenue “has significantly impacted our bottom line,” Paladino said. “This is just a very significant amount of lost revenue that cannot be recaptured.”

As a result, the organization has boosted its fundraising efforts. Other revenue sources include donations from businesses, the towns of Freeport and Pownal, and United Way.

The Mid Coast Hunger Prevention Program, which serves the communities of Brunswick, Topsham, Bowdoin, Bowdoinham, Lisbon, Lisbon Falls, Durham, Harpswell, Bailey Island, Cundy’s Harbor and Orr’s Island, has closed to the public. However, the organization is offering food outside the facility, with limited staffing in the building to reduce person-to-person contact, creating more to do with fewer people.

MCHPP, which has an annual budget of $950,000, served 380,000 meals last year to about 5,000 people, according to Executive Director Karen Parker. She was unable to compare 2019 traffic to recent weeks amid the pandemic, noting, “we’re basically running on empty here, so we’re not even having time to analyze anything; we’re just doing.”

The organization receives the “vast majority” of its food from corporate donors, according to Sean Marlin, the finance and development assistant. Comparing what Mid Coast Hunger received between mid-February and mid-March, to mid-March to mid-April, the weight of donations has decreased about 10%, from 79,830 pounds down to 72,587.

Mid Coast Hunger is not seeing donations of high-quality protein items as much as before the pandemic. “That’s a huge miss for our clients,” Parker said. She is seeing a lot of strawberries and raspberries, but not as many chicken breasts, with the latter selling out in supermarkets, for example.

“The replenishment of the whole supply chain nationwide is not keeping up with the demand,” she said.

Marlin could not yet quantify how many pounds the program has distributed since the pandemic began. But like Freeport, he’s seeing new people in need of assistance, as demand grows with no end immediately in sight.

“We’re fine (with supply) right now, but there are signs … that there are going to be shortages in canned vegetables,” Parker said. “You can see that if you go into the grocery store. … In the last few weeks I haven’t been able to buy a can of green beans.”

“What happens in the grocery store to each individual family is happening at a much bigger level to food pantries,” she added. “We’re concerned because this is new, and as the economic downturn continues, and as it exacerbates in the community, we don’t know what’s going to happen. … We are really at the mercy of the food supply.”

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