FARMINGTON — People started lining up more than an hour early to fill their empty bags and cardboard boxes with free food from Good Shepherd Food Bank Thursday morning.

When the food bank’s large truck loaded with frozen meats, fresh produce and other staples opened its doors at 10 a.m., about 30 people were waiting in the Fairbanks School Meeting House parking lot in Farmington, Carolyn McLaughlin said.

Three hours later, more than 10,000 pounds of food had been distributed to 320 people, highlighting the growing struggle many Mainers face to put food on their tables, according to McLaughlin, who helped organize the event.

“It exceeded all of our expectations and showed just how badly people need help,” she said.

Many of the same people drawn to the event have also been making more frequent visits to the Care and Share Food Closet, which is run out of the meeting house’s basement, McLaughlin said.

Last year, the food closet on Fairbanks Road served about 8,600 people, which is up 1,000 from 2010. McLaughlin, 75, co-chairs the charitable organization with her husband, describing the spike as the biggest in their seven years leading the group.

Because of the dramatic rise in demand, the charity group partnered with the food bank in Auburn to set up the food mobile visit this week. The food bank’s program picks communities with a high demand for aid and sends a truck to deliver food directly to residents.

Although the food bank already supplies food to a lot of community groups, including the food closet in Farmington, the direct deliveries give people another option to get help, McLaughlin said.

McLaughlin believes that some people are reluctant to seek help from the food closet, calling it a stigma most prevalent among older residents who want to remain anonymous when asking for aid.

They don’t want to go through the approval process at certain charitable groups, which require them to provide identification and show they meet low-income eligibility standards, McLaughlin said.

The food mobile provides food aid without requiring people to identify themselves, making it more comfortable for certain people, she said.

The food bank started the program about five years ago to address the growing demand for the service, especially in remote and underserved communities, according to Clara McConnell, communications manager for the food bank.

There have been events held in communities statewide, with the two food mobiles making 94 trips in 2011 alone when more than 600,000 pounds of food was distributed directly to residents, McConnell said.

Past events have averaged between 7,000 to 10,000 pounds of food per visit, and a local business will often donate the $1,000 to pay for the food, she said.

McConnell said that the event in Farmington, which was paid for by Franklin Savings Bank, is part of a recent trend where more people are turning out for the food mobile visits.

Among the crowd Thursday was a Norridgewock woman who said she was seeking food assistance for the first time.

Vickie, a 54-year-old mother of two children, would not give her last name because she didn’t want her family identified. Vickie and her husband are both disabled and the family survives on their government disability benefits of about $1,600 per month, making for a very tight food budget, she said.

“We just can’t afford to buy everything we need sometimes,” she said.

David Robinson — 861-9287

[email protected]

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