KENNEBUNK – It was a Tuesday, and the Friday, Sept. 11 produce pantry date was looming. Would the new food pantry operated by Community Outreach Services be ready? 

Well, yes, it was, and here’s how that happened. 

The new quarters, at 19 Park St., the former Teen Center owned by the town of Kennebunk, has undergone a substantial transformation in the last several weeks. 

COS volunteers Bruce Donat and Kathe Wright carry supplies into the organization’s new headquarters at 19 Park St. in Kennebunk  on Tuesday, Sept 8, ahead of the opening on Friday, Sept. 11 Tammy Wells Photo

The crunch was on – to get all the last-minute details taken care of, to move supplies, organize them, and to have the pantry open for the families who live in Kennebunk, Kennebunkport and Arundel who rely on it to help them put food on their tables. 

And they did it. It was open. 

Earlier in the week, municipal crews were busy outside, finishing up projects that included a new connection to the sewer line. Inside, plumbers and electricians were working on finishing up as well. June Huston, of Huston Home Renovation, was smoothing white paint on a window frame – the last touches on the brand-new paint job for the entire interior. 

COS of the Kennebunks executive director Mark Jago said the organization – formed 30 years ago by several area churches – is looking forward to its new quarters – and is grateful for the space used in the past.   

“We wouldn’t be here,” without the space offered by St. Martha’s Church for so many years, by Holy Cross Lutheran Church when St. Martha’s was unavailable, and by the owners of Vinegar Hill Music Theatre, which temporarily offered its space in April when it became clear during the coronavirus pandemic that theater would not open. The music theater was recently listed for sale.

Over the years – and especially lately, the need in the communities have grown, and COS of the Kennebunks is looking at ways to make the pantry more responsive to neighbors who use it. Gradually, they will move to a system that allows folks to choose which food items they are looking for, rather than accepting a bag of food that includes items they cannot use, reducing waste.

COS volunteer Joe Rolland organizes supplies to be offloaded into the organization’s new headquarters at 19 Park St. in Kennebunk. Tammy Wells Photo

But they needed space to do that. 

The town of Kennebunk had a space that was thought to be an ideal location. 

The former Teen Center was vacant and used only for storage for the past couple of years. An old modular unit that had been attached at the back was removed following a bad storm that caused water damage and ensuing issues.

The space was renovated and an agreement was struck that saw COS of the Kennebunks lease the property for $1 a year, said Karen Winton, Kennebunk’s general assistance director. 

There was municipal, community and volunteer help, discount pricing, donated time and a “get it done” attitude, Winton said.  

The building was gutted, there was an intensive cleaning and then came the renovations, which included creating a kitchen space and an administrative office all in six weeks.

June Huston applies paint to a window frame ahead of the Friday, Sept. 11 opening of the COS food pantry and headquarters at 19 Park St. in Kennebunk. Tammy Wells Photo

There’s now room and the means to store fresh produce meats and dairy products.  

“It’s been such a great team,” said Huston, noting that contractors often came in at night or on weekends to get their jobs done – after the municipal crews had done their work on the property during the daytime hours. 

Winton is proud of Kennebunk for stepping up. 

“The Select Board and the town made a giant supportive statement in having the pantry where it is,” she said, noting the nearby ball fields and the playground in the front yard  

When the pandemic struck in the spring and many people were laid off or saw their hours reduced, there was a significant uptick in the number of neighbors seeking food – triple the usual number, said Jago. Now, that has eased off a bit, but they are still at twice their usual prepandemic numbers, he estimated.

COS of the Kennebunks was able to open the new food pantry at 19 Park St. in Kennebunk on Sept 11 as planned. The new headquarters was made possible  through the town of Kennebunk and numerous community volunteers. Courtesy Photo/Town of Kennebunk

“We’re so pleased to finally have a space to call our home,” said Jago. “And we’re pleased to be able to offer a much more efficient way to serve our neighbors and eliminate waste.” 

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