Warehouse manager Jim Welch, founder Sybil Riemensnider and Executive Director Dwayne Hopkins are celebrating the South Portland Food Cupboard’s 25th anniversary this year. Drew Johnson / The Forecaster

“Feeding Neighbors in Need” is more than a slogan at the South Portland Food Cupboard; it’s a mission the food panty has taken on with determination and compassion, week in and week out, for the past 25 years.

“It started in a church,” said Sybil Riemensnider. “We were a committee, and our charge was collecting food to go down to Portland. We thought, ‘we have people here in South Portland who could use food.’”

Riemensnider and her fellow committee members at Holy Cross Catholic Church began talking with local organizations, churches and pantries across Maine about how to start a pantry of their own. She founded the South Portland Food Cupboard at Holy Cross in 1997 before moving it to the former St. John the Evangelist Church on Main Street.

A quarter of a century later, the Food Cupboard has generated a steady stream of donors and volunteers to serve neighbors in need. Each recipient is given a number on their first visit and the pantry now has over 7,000 recipients in their database – the vast majority representing not just themselves but their families as well.

“We still have people coming from the triple digits,” said Executive Director Dwayne Hopkins.

Families would leave the Food Cupboard at the church with five to six bags of groceries “if they were lucky,” Riemensnider said. The Food Cupboard acquired its own location at 130 Thadeus St. in 2014 and is now able to provide recipients with 25 to 30 bags of groceries each visit – generally enough to last them an entire month.


The community the pantry has fostered is one of positivity and compassion. Volunteers come from all walks of life; teachers, doctors, lawyers, truck drivers, painters and carpenters, to name a few.

Lisa Sanderson was a dentist for over 30 years and has been volunteering at the Food Cupboard for the past four. She is now in charge of the pantry’s food distribution on Tuesdays.

“It’s the most gratifying thing I’ve done in all my years,” Sanderson said. “There’s this sense of camaraderie; you make nice connections with people. It’s like welcoming them into your home.”

The Food Cupboard’s success, however, comes with a sobering reality: While helping feed over 7,000 families is something to celebrate it also means there are over 7,000 families in need – and there seem to be more in need every week.

The Food Cupboard routinely sees a 30% to 40% boost in recipients during the holiday season, said warehouse manager Jim Welch.

“Our record is 119 families in one day,” he said.


However, that 30% to 40% increase hasn’t dropped off this summer and the Food Cupboard has been processing 15 tons of food per week on average, a nearly 15% increase from last year, according to Welch. It’s a trend seen in other food pantries in Maine that the Food Cupboard has collaborated with for several years, whether it’s giving each other tips on where to find food or providing extra produce when they have it.

“We have 500 families a week that we are feeding right now,” said Sandy Swett, founder of the Harrison Food Bank. “Every week we get new people.”

Hopkins and Swett both attribute the rise in recipients to hardships people faced during the pandemic and the rise in costs in its wake.

“When the rubber meets the road, it affects the prices of apples and oranges and bread and all those things we put on our table,” Hopkins said.

This summer, the Food Cupboard has helped recipients persevere by taking on the cost of food.

“The food program has been a lifesaver for our family of 7 throughout the pandemic and rising costs,” one recipient wrote to the Food Cupboard in a letter shared with The Forecaster. “We’ve had two children with special needs that require higher levels of care and support during this timeframe. The pantry has helped us be able to focus on their care while providing healthy, delicious meals amongst the rising food costs … They have been amazing and supportive during these unprecedented times.”

Hopkins and Swett expect the number of recipients to continue to climb with heating bills around the corner.

“We are all in a crisis now,” Swett said. “We have not seen the height of it.”

To help recipients weather the storm, the Food Cupboard and pantries across the state are relying heavily on donors and volunteers. For more information, visit southportlandfoodcupboard.org or call 207-874-0379.

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