Community Outreach Services is contemplating moving its food pantry to the vacant Kennebunk Teen Center. The agency has been temporarily located at Vinegar Hill Music Theatre in Arundel. Dan King photo

KENNEBUNK — Community Outreach Services food pantry has been serving three times the number of household units as they did prior to the coronavirus pandemic.

And while the numbers are starting to decline, the organization is looking to introduce some future changes in the way it provides services to their neighbors in need to make the process more efficient.

The agency is also looking for new space, and while its board of directors has not yet taken a vote, said Executive Director Mark Jago, the Kennebunk Select Board has agreed to allow COS to operate the food pantry at the former teen center on Park Street.

“We have been very fortunate to have the space at Vinegar Hill Music Theatre, given us in April as a temporary location by Tim Harrington, for the purpose of serving the communities of Kennebunk, Kennebunkport and Arundel during this pandemic and hunger relief crisis,” said Jago. “We outgrew our former space and viability at our St. Martha’s location with the changes to curbside pickup and the increased demand. While we have been grateful for (St. Martha’s) letting us use their facility for many years, we knew another building was necessary. Vinegar Hill supplied that immediate need.”

Jago said the agency has gone from serving 50 to 60 household units consisting of two to four people a week, to three times that number and more — to 180 to 200 families a week — especially, he said, during the peak of COVID-19.

“We have recently seen these numbers decrease a bit … perhaps due to the fact that some have begun going back to work,” said Jago. “Hard to predict where we will be this fall.”

Kennebunk Community Development Director Chris Osterrieder introduced the prospect of allowing Community Outreach Services to use the vacant teen center building to the select board at a recent meeting.

He said the agency has been looking at changing the mechanics of how they provide food services — which he said would give the agency more capacity.

“It is a tremendous win for the community,” said Osterrieder of the agency. “We realized they are seeking space, and we have space available.”

There is some work that must be done to the building; Osterrieder gave a rough cost estimate of between $9,000 and $15,000. Select Board Chair Blake Baldwin noted the town had received $50,000 in donations aimed at such matters.

Osterrieder said some of the work could be done in-house.

Select Board member Ed Karytko said the public works department is short staffed and doesn’t have the time to do what it needs to now.

Osterrieder noted public works would lead the effort, conducted by interns and other internal staff.

“Over the last year we’ve seen an … expansion of the social services need in this town. This is an opportunity for the town to step in and fill a need that’s there,” said Select Board member Wayne Berry.

“It is a really important service to our community COS provides,” said Select Board member Shiloh Schulte.

The board voted 6-1, with Karytko dissenting, to allow Town Manager Mike Pardue to enter into a memorandum of understanding with COS to operate the food pantry at the teen center.

In a recent email, Jago said no decisions had been made as yet by the board of directors.

To meet the increased need in demand, in April COS hired David Higham, who has a background in the food and restaurant industry, to help with operations and to revamp the system to make it easier for people to secure the food they need. The revamping will allow COS to be more effective in offering choices, which in turn eliminates waste and allows COS to maintain better financial controls, said Jago.

One of the new features will allow patrons to call or go online and create an appointment. Community Outreach Services will continue to work with the general assistance offices in Arundel, Kennebunk and Kennebunkport.

“No more long lines, no more waiting in hot cars or cold temps,” said Jago. “No more having to not get food because they can’t make it Tuesday night or Friday morning or cannot drive.”

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