BINGHAM — Since her husband was injured in a wood chipper accident about a year ago, June Cromwell says it has been a lot harder to pay for groceries.
Her husband, Freeman, took an early retirement after the accident and Cromwell, who is 64 and disabled, doesn’t work. They receive income from Social Security but they also have medical bills to pay and get little other assistance.
“I used to spend $200 a week on groceries,” Cromwell said. “I would go to all the stores in Skowhegan, now we have a couple hundred dollars a month to spend after all the bills are paid.”
On Friday, the Brighton Plantation resident was one of about 75 people who came to the Bingham Area Health Center, where a mobile food pantry was distributing more than 5,000 pounds of food. The food was free and available to anyone who needed it.
The Good Shepherd Food Bank based in Auburn established its Mobile Pantry Program in 2010 to help bring food to areas of the state that have outgrown the capacity of their local pantries. To date the program has distributed about 670,000 pounds of food.
“We try to bring as many fresh foods as we can because most local panties have a limited capacity to hold it— dairy, fresh produce and eggs,” said Kathy Helming, vice president of agency services for Good Shepherd Food Bank.
The mobile food pantry operates in a similar way to a traditional food pantry, with volunteers distributing food from the large white truck that is compartmentalized to store refrigerated and frozen items as well as canned goods and bakery items. People line up to choose from an array of food laid out on tables that they carry away in boxes and bags.
“You don’t feel like a sponge. When I look around I see people that are like me,” said Cromwell as she filled a box with fresh tomatoes, bread and peanut butter.
Because Brighton Plantation, which has a population of about 40 people, doesn’t have its own food pantry, Cromwell said that getting assistance means she has to contact the town or drive to neighboring Cornville for food assistance.
It’s a similar story in many rural areas, where food pantries are often only open once or twice a month, if the town has one at all, said Helming.
Bingham, which is one of about 150 stops the mobile pantry will make around the state this year, has a food pantry that serves eight communities and is open one day a month.
“This provides more access,” Helming said. “It helps to supplement local pantries, especially in rural areas, if we can offer something mid-month.”
Good Shepherd partnered with the Bingham Area Health Center, a community clinic, to bring the truck to Somerset County. About 17 percent of people in the county don’t have access to a reliable source of food, according to the 2013 County Health Rankings by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
In Maine, only Washington County experiences more food insecurity.
“It’s definitely an important issue,” said Kathy Calder, director of development and provider recruitment for HealthReach Community Health Centers.”As providers we see families struggling and people not being able to buy what they want to buy. We see problems with obesity and some of that is related to not being able to buy what you want to buy.”
HealthReach oversees the operations of the Bingham clinic and 10 others throughout central Maine.
“It’s a human issue that you need to eat properly and everyone deserves to have good food,” Calder said. “We hope to keep partnering with them where it would work.”
The mobile food pantry will return to Bingham from 10 a.m. to noon on Friday, June 13, and Tuesday, July 1.
Rachel Ohm — 612-2368 | [email protected]