Volunteers at East Winthrop Baptist Church’s Food Ministry say news that the pantry may have to close because of a policy shift by Hannaford supermarkets has sparked an outcry — and donations — from the public.
Dean Finley, director of the church’s food ministry, said Friday that people have called to make donations and voice support for the pantry, which has been in existence for 22 years. Finley said two television stations filmed Friday during the pantry’s open hours. The potential closing was first reported by the Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel.
“We’ve had some really good feedback from the community,” Finley said. “The phones have been ringing off the hook.”
Pastor Samuel Richards said the ministry has received “substantial” offers to help, including at least one offer of potentially thousands of dollars.
“We’ve never had a donation like that,” he said.
What it all means to the ministry’s future remains to be seen. Richards said he and the volunteers will take a wait-and-see approach when it comes to deciding how to move forward. He is not counting on Hannaford executives to change their mind about limiting food donations to only those food pantries that are affiliated with Good Shepherd Food Bank.
“We expect God will take care of the hungry with Hannaford or without Hannaford, and we’re OK with that,” Richards said. “I’ve had 22 great years. I’m very grateful. The locals at Hannaford have been compassionate and kind. I can’t say enough good about them.”
Hannaford earlier this year notified the church and other food pantries around the state that the company would prohibit its stores from donating food to local food pantries that are not affiliated with Good Shepherd. Hannaford spokesman Eric Blom said this week the decision was made in an effort to reduce the amount of food going to waste at the stores because of the difficulty in scheduling pickups with local pantries. Blom said the company hopes working with Good Shepherd’s system of food banks would help with scheduling and lead to less wasted food.
East Winthrop’s food ministry had historically opted to remain independent of Good Shepherd because of philosophical differences regarding bookkeeping and food distribution procedures. Good Shepherd, citing those differences, announced this week it rejected the church’s application.
Good Shepherd’s decision means the East Winthrop food ministry, which collected food seven days a week from Hannaford stores in Winthrop and Augusta, will likely be cut off next week.
Augusta resident Sherry Truppa read of the potential closing on the Kennebec Journal website Thursday night and decided she wanted to help.
“When I read that (Thursday) night it literally brought tears to my eyes,” Truppa said, taking a moment to collect her emotions. “It still does.”
Friday morning she and her daughter Katie, went to the Walmart in Augusta planning to buy as much food as they could to donate to the East Winthrop pantry. Truppa, who is acquainted with Walmart store manager Gerald Tyler, explained to him what she was doing.
“He’s a wonderful man,” Truppa said. “I told him what I was doing and asked if there was anything he could do to help. He said, ‘I’ll match it.’”
The Truppas filled two grocery carts full of fresh produce and meat. Tyler covered the bill, which totaled $140.
“That’s all I could fit in the cart,” she said. “I tried to concentrate on staples, fresh fruit and vegetables. It’s expensive to eat healthy.”
Truppa, who said she didn’t even know there was a food pantry in East Winthrop, said she knows what it is like to struggle. She hopes giving the food away will help relieve some of the burden someone else is carrying.
“I know we can’t save everybody, but we can help them,” she said.
Finley said the donation had already helped lift some of the burden he has felt since learning the ministry may close.
“I hugged her and prayed with her and broke down crying, if you want to know the truth,” Finley said. “I was so moved by it. Something like this happens, that’s when good people come out from the shadows and say, ‘We’re going to help.’”
Finley said he had received a $150 donation that would help further bridge the gap.
“I’ll spend it at Walmart for food,” he said. “That’s the best I can do.”
Richards on Friday received official notification of Good Shepherd’s decision and a written record detailing the reasons for the food bank’s rejection. Good Shepherd listed six characteristics it seeks to have in partner agencies, including:
• An intake process to determine and record household needs.
Richards said the church has chosen to respect privacy in an effort to preserve their clients’ dignity. He said the church believes the Good Shepherd process is “a shaming procedure.”
• A means of distributing food proportionate to household needs.
The church allows those who come to take as much food as they feel they need rather than allocating a certain amount of food based on family size. “We let them determine household needs rather than coming up with an arbitrary guideline,” Richards said. “With very few exceptions people have been self regulating.”
• Providing enough food to serve every person in the house for six to nine meals.
The church distributes food twice per week and people can come as often as they like. Most pantries limit families to one visit per month. Richard calculates that limits families to just 10 percent of the roughly 90 meals they need each month.“I guess they’re not supposed to be hungry after their six to nine meals,” Richards said. “We do better than that. We supply at least 70 percent of those nutritious meals.”
• An adequate supply of food to be able to provide similar if not equal access to all categories of food for each household.
Richards acknowledged he is unsure what that standard means, but assumes it is citing the food ministry’s decision to provide primarily fruits and vegetables rather than meat and milk. “We’re supposed to have everything,” Richards said. “There’s not a food bank that can do that. Basically what they’re saying is we don’t have enough food and to prove it they’re going to pull what little food we have.”
• An adequate supply of quality food to serve the need reliably and consistently.
Richards said there have been times of abundance and times when food was scarce at the pantry, but they ministry has given out whatever food it can every week for decades. “How about 22 years of service and reliably being there regardless of weather,” he said. “We’re not entitled to any of this. We don’t expect any of this. We are just blessed.”
• A base of support in the community in order to meet the need without 100 percent reliance on one source of money or food.
Richards said the statement indicates Good Shepherd’s failure to understand the ministry’s history, which includes a lengthy list of donations from individuals, farmers, and businesses. “We regularly receive food from a variety of sources and our funding is all over the place,” Richards said. “It’s just that we don’t ask for town, state or federal money. I didn’t know that wold be held against us, but apparently it is. There are real differences of philosophy here.”
Craig Crosby — 621-5643 [email protected]