Peter McNamara, warehouse manager at the South Portland Food Cupboard, said the pantry’s annual Battle of the Neighborhood drive comes amid an annual post-holiday “lull” in donations. Drew Johnson / The Forecaster

The South Portland Food Cupboard’s annual “Battle of the Neighborhoods” food drive is set to begin Feb. 14 with a new twist.

Neighborhoods will be split into two teams this year, East vs. West, as opposed to individual neighborhood teams as in the past. Pleasantdale and neighborhoods to the east make up the East team, while Stanwood Park, Ligonia/Browne Hill and neighborhoods west of them make up the West team. The team that donates the most food wins.

“Some of these neighborhoods are kind of small and they really don’t have a chance against some of the other ones,” Jim Welch, the Food Cupboard’s operations manager, said Tuesday at the Thadeus Street warehouse.

The Battle of the Neighborhoods’ purpose is to help carry the pantry through the routine drop in donations and other contributions after the holiday season.

“It’s almost like an onslaught of volunteers and donations during Christmas and the holidays,” said Peter McNamara, who took over the role of warehouse manager at the pantry in October. “Then it trickles down quite a bit afterward and we hit this lull in donations and also in what we receive from the federal government.”

It isn’t until around April that the Food Cupboard usually notices an uptick in donations again, Welch said, as Easter approaches and other donation drives ramp up, including the pantry’s “40 Days for Lent” drive in partnership with local churches.


“All of a sudden it starts picking up again,” Welch said. “The Battle keeps everything rolling. It’s a wonderful thing.”

The Food Cupboard provided for 75 families on Tuesday morning alone, McNamara said, and he expected another 75 clients at their Thursday morning distribution. In total, they served 805 recipients in January.

In early 2023, the Food Cupboard helped roughly 1,200 recipients per month but that number rose to 1,640 recipients in March after emergency SNAP benefits ended. Peaking in August with 2,098 recipients, the pantry saw roughly 1,750 recipients in December. An average of over 15% of recipients served each week throughout 2023 were new to the pantry.

During other times of year, the South Portland Food Cupboard’s walk-in freezers are usually filled to capacity with boxes of food, according to Jim Welch, former warehouse manager and current operations manager. On Tuesday, they were at roughly half capacity. Drew Johnson / The Forecaster

“Over the last year, the demand has gone up,” Welch said. “It seems to have kind of stabilized here in the last month or so.”

While it’s dubbed a “battle,” the annual food drive is all about friendly community competition and, most importantly, the Food Cupboard’s mission: helping neighbors in need.

In 2023, the competition netted nearly 19,000 pounds of donated food, up from 15,000 in 2022.


Donations can be dropped off at the Food Cupboard throughout the battle, lasting from Feb. 14 to March 17. There will also be donation boxes at different locations around South Portland throughout the drive, which will be announced and listed at

“Big things that we are looking for are canned proteins like tuna fish, canned chicken and peanut butter,” McNamara said. “It’s those kinds of proteins that really help folks out. Those are our big wins.”

And, with the Battle of the Neighborhoods, everybody wins.

“We want everybody to be a winner and if you participate in this, you’re a winner,” Welch said.

“You’re helping so many people.”

Team territory for the South Portland Food Cupboard’s 2024 Battle of the Neighborhoods. Contributed / South Portland Food Cupboard

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