Food Pantry Director Jeanne Rielly readies cleaning supplies and non-perishable food for pick-up this week. Rielly will retire at the end of the month after 22 years at the pantry. Chance Viles / American Journal

After 22 years and thousands of families served, Westbrook Food Pantry Director Jeanne Rielly is retiring at the end of the month.

Rielly, described by her peers as dedicated and caring, has volunteered for two decades to expand and serve the food pantry. Her tenure has lasted through five mayors, five locations and hundreds of volunteers.

The pantry at the Westbrook Community Center has always been open on Tuesdays, President Nancy Crump said, and over the years, she can’t remember a single Tuesday Rielly missed.

“That really speaks on how much she cares, but it’s just something she does,” Crump said.

The pantry’s pre-packaged kits come with non-perishable food and snacks, as well as juice. The pantry also offers meat, fresh produce, eggs, butter, cleaning supplies and more. Chance Viles / American Journal

Rielly, 82, said she is stepping down so that someone with fresh eyes and new energy can direct the pantry. She looks forward to retirement, but said it will take some time to get used to.

“I think my family will be really excited, they’ve bugged me to retire for some time,” she said. “It will be odd to not unlock those doors that Tuesday for my team packaging and working.”

Rielly first got involved through her church. Giving back is just something people should do, she said.

But Crump said Rielly is too modest and that the pantry wouldn’t be what it is today and serve as many families as it does without her hard work.

The pantry served about 200 families in 2015 and over 350 in 2021, Crump said.

About 14% of Maine homes are considered “food insecure” and 37% of them do not qualify for food assistance programs, according to the Good Shepherd Food Bank of Maine. Local food pantries help fill that gap.

“She has been the voice of the pantry, the face. Jeanne loves her family first and foremost, her children and grandchildren. And really next in line is the food pantry and her dedication to the food pantry,” Crump said.

Rielly introduced evening hours at the pantry to serve working families and with the onslaught of the pandemic, she and her team organized a curbside pick-up program along with other necessary changes.

She says the pantry has been successful – it has never had to hold a general fundraiser – because of its volunteers, from those who have been involved since the beginning to the New Mainers who are more recent volunteers.

“I couldn’t do it all without our fantastic volunteers and the support we get from the city and I can’t underscore that enough,” she said.

Her son, former City Councilor Brendan Rielly, said his mother, with her modesty, has been a role model for him and his children.

“Part of the reason for the modesty is respecting the dignity of who you are helping,” he said.  “It’s difficult to admit you need help and what I always respected was the time commitment and the love she brought to it (with) this intense desire to protect the dignity of the people who are coming through the door.”

Harrison Deah, director of Westbrook General Assistance, which also is located at the Community Center, said the pantry plays a vital role for many of his clients, and he often directs those applicants who don’t qualify for aid to the pantry.

“They’ve been a great resource for people coming in and they are just down the hall,” Deah said. “Jeanne’s retirement is much deserved and we wish her the best.”

The pantry itself will continue to be successful without her in charge, Rielly said, and she plans to keep in contact and volunteer there.

“They are some big shoes to fill,” Crump said of finding Rielly’s replacement.

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